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​Legal Words

The meanings of some common legal words and terms that are used on this website are listed below. For information about the law, go to Legal System.


accused – person charged with the crime

adjourn – to put off a court case to a later date

administrator (Guardianship List) – a person appointed by the Guardianship List to make financial and legal decisions on behalf of someone with a disability who is unable to make those decisions for themselves

administrator (of a Will) – person appointed by the court to deal with a deceased estate where there is no Will or where the Will does not name a suitable executor

affected family member – a person who needs protecting from family violence

affected person – a person who needs protecting from stalking

affidavit – a written document containing evidence for the court. An affidavit is signed in front of an authorised person (such as a lawyer or Justice of the Peace) and sworn or affirmed to be true

affirm – a declaration or promise that something is true that is made if you do not want to swear on the Bible, Koran or other religious book

allegation – when someone accuses another person of having done something

appeal – a procedure that allows a party to challenge the decision made by a court

applicant – the person applying for a court order

arrest – when the police hold you in custody because they think you have broken the law

assets – things you own, such as property, land, shares, bank deposits, jewellery, clothes, and so on

attorney – a person appointed to make financial, legal or medical treatment decisions for another person

Australian workplace agreement (AWA) – a written employment contract between you and your employer that sets out the terms and conditions of your employment

award – a document that sets out wage rates and conditions of employment for groups of employees


bail – a promise that you will go to court to face charges on a certain day. You may have to agree to conditions like reporting to the police, living at a certain place or having someone act as a surety for you

bail justice – a person who can give or refuse to give you bail while you are in police custody

balance of probabilities – level of proof needed in civil law cases to decide which version of events is more likely to have happened. This is easier to prove than 'beyond reasonable doubt'

barrister – a lawyer who specialises in appearing at court

beneficiary – a person who is given something in a Will

beyond reasonable doubt – level of proof needed in criminal cases for a magistrate or jury to decide whether you are guilty

blood alcohol content (BAC) – the amount of alcohol in your blood

breach – to break a law or court order


capacity (legal capacity) – having the ability to understand and think things out

case – your legal issues in the court system

caveat – a notice that certain actions may not happen without first telling the person who gave the notice

certified copy – copy of a document on which an authorised person has signed and written: 'This is a true and complete copy of the original'

charge – an explanation of the law that police say you have broken

charge sheet – a statement by the police that sets of the charges and starts the court process

codicil – legal document used to change a Will

community based order – when a court says you must do certain things instead of other penalties like going to prison or paying a fine

committal – the first part of a court case where a magistrate decides if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial

confidentiality – a rule that says what you say to someone will not be told to others unless you agree

consent – when you agree to something

consent orders – an agreement between you and the other party which is approved by the court and then made into a court order

contest – a court hearing in which the parties disagree or where an accused person pleads not guilty

contest mention – a court date if you are pleading not guilty where the magistrate finds out from you and the police what the main points of disagreement are and the number of witnesses

contravention – when a court decides a party has broken the rules of a court order

conviction – a criminal record of when the court has found you guilty of breaking the law

costs – money for legal or other costs which a party may be ordered to pay in a court case

court list – a list at court that shows the cases to be dealt with that day

court order – a court document that says you must do something. It is also a document that sets out your penalty if you are found guilty of breaking the law

criminal record – a police record of your history in relation to criminal offences

custody – when you have been arrested and are not free to leave


de facto spouse – a person who is living with a person of the opposite sex as if they were a married couple although they are not

deed – a document that is signed and officially sealed

defence – a legal reason for why you are not guilty of the offence the police charged you with

defendant – a person or organisation that has been charged with breaking the law

deponent – a person making an affidavit

disqualification of licence – the court takes your drivers licence away from you. You have to go to court to get it back

divorce order – an order made by a court that ends a marriage

domestic partner – an unmarried person who has registered their relationship with the Relationships Register. Also a person who has a personal and financial commitment to another person and provides domestic support

duty lawyer – a lawyer who helps people who do not have their own lawyer on the day of their court hearing. They can give free legal advice and may be able to represent people in court


enduring power of attorney (financial) – a document that allows a person to make financial and legal decisions for you, even after you cannot make decisions for yourself

enduring power of attorney (medical treatment) – a document that allows a person to make decisions about your medical treatment when you are not able to make these decisions yourself

enduring power of guardianship – a document that allows a person to make personal or lifestyle decisions on your behalf when you are not able to make these decisions yourself

enforcement order – a written document made by a court that says you must follow an order

estate – the assets of a person who has died

evidence – information used in court to prove if something is true

ex parte hearing – a court hearing where a party is not present and has not been told that this is happening

exclusion order – a part of an intervention order that stops the family member the order is against from being at your home

executor – person named in a Will to deal with the estate

ex-nuptial – child born to parents who are not married to each other


family consultant – a psychologist or social worker who helps the court and the parties in children's cases

family dispute resolution – when a family dispute resolution practitioner helps people to sort out their disagreements with each other following separation

family law registry – a public area at a Family Law Court where people can get information about the court and its processes, and file documents for their court case

family report – a report about a family written by a family consultant. The report helps the court make a decision about the children

family violence – harmful behaviour that is used to control, threaten, force or dominate a family member through fear. It includes sexual, psychological, emotional and financial abuse

family violence intervention order – an order made under Victorian law to protect a family member from family violence

family violence order – an order made under Commonwealth, state or territory law to protect a person, including a child, from violence

family violence safety notice – a notice issued by the police to protect an adult from a family member who is using family violence

federal magistrate – a person who makes sure the court case follows the rules and makes the decisions in the Federal Magistrates Court

file/filing – to give documents to the court. The court stamps the documents and gives you back a copy

final hearing – the last hearing in a case where the court listens to witnesses and any other evidence

final order – the last order that the court makes to finish a court case

forensic medical examination – an examination of your body by a doctor or dentist. This may involve taking body samples like blood, pubic hair, anal, genital or breast swabs, saliva, and mouth or dental impressions


general power of attorney – a document that allows a person to make financial or legal decisions for you while you have legal capacity

giving instructions – telling your lawyer what you would like them to do

grant of probate – court order that allows the executor of a Will to deal with and distribute the estate

guarantee – a promise given by a person to pay your debt if you do not pay it

guardian – a person appointed to make lifestyle decisions for someone who is unable to make those decisions themselves

Guardianship List – protects people aged 18 years or over who, as result of a disability, are unable to make reasonable decisions for themselves

guilty – what you say when you admit to breaking the law. Also a decision made by the court


hearing – the presentation of a case at court


independent children's lawyer – a lawyer appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the child

independent person – an adult who must be with you during police questioning when you are under 18 and your parents or guardian cannot be there

Independent Third Person – a trained person who is with you during police questioning if you are mentally impaired to help you understand each other

indictable offence – a serious offence often heard before a judge and jury

informant – a police officer or government official, such as a public transport officer, who charged you with breaking the law

infringement notice – money you have to pay for minor offences, such as littering, parking or traffic offences (also known as an ‘on the spot’ fine)

infringement warrant – a court document that allows a sheriff to take certain actions

intensive correction order (ICO) – a sentence where you spend time each week at a community corrections centre instead of going to jail. You must do unpaid community work

interim hearing – a hearing that looks at the issues that need to be decided in the short term, such as where the children will live

interim order – an order made by a court until another order or a final order is made

intervention order – a court order to protect you from family violence or stalking

intestate – a person who dies without a valid Will is said to have died intestate


judge – a person who controls what happens in higher courts and deals with legal issues

judgment – a decision by a court

judicial officer – a person who the law says can hear and decide cases, such as a judge, federal magistrate or magistrate

jurisdiction – the legal power of a court or the area that a court's legal power covers (such as the state of Victoria)

jury – a group of people who decide if you are guilty or not guilty based on evidence given in court


lawyer – a person who can advise you about the law and represent you in court

lien – a right to hold another person’s property until they meet an obligation or pay a debt to do with that property. For example, if someone has repaired your car at your request they can claim a lien over the car until the work is paid for


magistrate – a person who decides if you are guilty or not and what punishment you get

mental impairment – a disability, including intellectual disabilities, acquired brain injury, mental illness and dementia

mention date – a court date when the magistrate will ask you or your lawyer about your case. The magistrate will also speak with the other lawyer (or with police, if they are involved). If your case is not sorted out, a date may be set for a hearing


no comment – what you say when you do not want to say anything to police

not guilty – what you say when you deny breaking the law. Also a decision made by the court


oath – where you swear in the name of your religious beliefs to tell the truth

offence – an offence is something the law says is wrong


parenting plan – a written agreement between parties setting out parenting arrangements for children

party – a person or legal entity (for example, a bank) involved in a case

perpetrator – a person who breaks the law

plea – your response in court to the charge. You can plead guilty or not guilty

police brief – a document that contains  evidence the police use to prove their case

police case – what the police say about what happened and why they charged you

police prosecutor – a police officer who presents all the 'police cases' in court

police summary – what the police say happened

precedent – a court decision that is used as an example or reason for later decisions

priors – your criminal record

privilege – a legal rule that says confidential information that you have given to or received from your lawyer cannot be used in court

prosecutor – a lawyer who appears in a criminal court case and presents evidence against the person accused of breaking the law


registrar – a person who works for the court and who has been given power to do different things

respondent – a party named by an applicant as the other party in a court case

revoke – to cancel something, such as a court order


sentence – a penalty or outcome you get when a court finds you guilty

serve – the legal delivery of a document

sheriff – a person who carries out sanctions if you do not do what it says in a court order

solicitor – a lawyer who can advise you about the law and represent you in court

stalking – when someone repeatedly contacts another person or behaves in a way that makes them feel scared, distressed or fear for their safety

statement – a written document of what you say about events

statutory declaration – a document that is signed in front of an authorised person, such as a justice of the peace

subpoena – a document that says you must appear in court or give certain documents to the court at the request of the party

summary offence – a less serious offence usually heard in the Magistrates’ Court or Children's Court

summons – a court document that tells you when you must go to court

supervised access – when a parent spends time with a child while another adult is there to make sure the child is safe

surety – a person who promises money or property if you do not meet your bail conditions

swear – when you swear on a Bible, Koran or other religious book that something is true


traffic offence – an offence is when you break the law when driving a motor vehicle or using the road

transcript – a record of the spoken evidence in a court case

triable summarily – when an indictable offence can be dealt with by a magistrate in the Magistrates Court instead of a judge and jury in a higher court

trial – a court case in front of a jury

trustee – a person who manages property held in trust for the benefit of another person


undertaking – a promise to the court to do or not to do certain things


warrant – a court document that says what the police or sheriff can do, such as arrest you or search your house

Will – a legal document setting out who gets part or all of a person’s estate when they die

witness – a person who gives evidence in writing or in person for a court case