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Dictionary 

This Dictionary contains the definitions of words and phrases you may hear used in court that you've not heard before or don't understand.


A

Accused
The person charged with committing the crime.

Accusations
The crime(s) that it has been alleged has been committed by the accused.

Acquit/Acquittal
When the magistrate, judge or jury find that a person is not guilty of the crime.

Acquitted
When the magistrate, judge or jury find that a person is not guilty of the crime.

Adjournment During the Trial or Hearing
A break for morning tea or lunch or for 'legal argument' (see below) It can also mean when a trial is put off until another day.

Admissible
Used to describe evidence that is allowed to be given in court.

Adversarial
The prosecution lawyers and the defence lawyers will offer opposing accounts of the crime. They will argue in court about the facts, witnesses evidence and/or legal issues. This is known as an adversarial system.

Affidavit
A statement, which is signed before a judicial officer or solicitor. The person signing the legal document states that the contents are, to the best of their knowledge, true.

Affirmation
A promise to tell the truth in court. Used by people who do not wish to swear on the Bible or other religious book.

Alleged offender
Until a person is proved to be guilty of a crime, the person is an alleged offender.

Antecedents
A person's criminal record. This is not disclosed to the jury, but will be given to the Judge on sentence or on a bail application.

Appeal
To take a case to a higher court in order to challenge a decision. The person who appeals is the appellant.

Apprehended Violence Orders (AVOs)
AVOs are court orders that protect people from physical assault, stalking, harassment, intimidation or damage to property by another person.

Arraignment
Where the details of the charge (called an indictment) are read out to the accused in court. The accused will then plead guilty or not guilty.

Arrest
The procedure where a person is taken into police custody to be charged with a criminal offence or to be brought before a court and must remain in police custody until they receive bail or until a court deals with their charges.


B

Bail
An agreement to turn up to court. The accused may be given bail by the police or the court. A person on bail is allowed to go free until their case is decided at court.

Balance of Probabilities
The test (or standard of proof) used by a court in civil claims and children's care matters. It states that something must be more likely to have happened than not to have happened.

Barrister
A lawyer who specialises in court presentation. Usually wears a wig and gown in court.

Bar Table
A long table near the front of the courtroom where the lawyers sit.

Bench
Where the judge or magistrate sits.

Beyond reasonable doubt
The test (or standard of proof) used by a jury, judge or magistrate to decide if the accused is guilty or not guilty of each criminal charge. It must be proved beyond reasonable doubt that a person has committed an offence before they can be convicted.

Breach
To break or to go against the rules or the law.

Brief or Brief of Evidence
This is a collection of statements from witnesses (both police and ordinary witnesses), medical reports, photographs, bail papers, charge sheets etc. that is given to the ODPP by the police after the police have finished their investigation and have charged the accused. The ODPP use the material contained within the brief of evidence to prosecute the accused.

Brief
The evidence in written form, including the charge(s), witness statements, photographs etc. that the prosecution intends to use to prove the case.


C

Charge
The allegation that a person has committed a specific crime.

Charter of Victims Rights
Victims of crime in New South Wales have a Charter to protect and promote their rights. The Charter of Victims Rights obliges government agencies to ensure that a victim is at all times treated with courtesy and compassion, and that their rights and dignity are respected.

Children's Court
This is a special court (generally closed), which is used in most instances for hearings involving offenders under 18 years and for child protection matters.

Circle Sentencing
An alternative sentencing court for Aboriginal people, which involves taking the court to community settings where Aboriginal Elders and community members and the Magistrate sit in a circle to discuss the offence and the offender. It can involve victims, as well as the offender's families and other respected community people. It is a justice program to ensure that the impact on victims and the broader Aboriginal community is recognised by the offender and reflected in sentencing decisions.

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)
This is a provision available to child witnesses and adult complainants in sexual assault matters so they can give evidence to the court from a remote location. In special situations CCTV is used for adult witnesses at the discretion of the court.


Closed Court
When no one other than a witness support person can sit in the public gallery. The public are excluded and the press may be excluded.

Committal hearing
A hearing of all the evidence at the local court by a magistrate who then decides if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial.

Community Services
A NSW government department that promotes the safety and wellbeing of children and young people through a range of services including child protection. Community Services was formerly known as "Department of Community Services" or "DoCS".

Complainant
Used to describe victims of crime in court.

Conference
A meeting with the solicitor or barrister (or both) to talk about the case.

Conviction
When a person accused of committing a criminal offence is guilty of that offence, a record of their guilt is recorded on their criminal history sheet.

COPS
The police acronym for Computerised Operational Policing System. A primary database used by the NSW Police Force.

COPS Event Number
This is the Police reference number for your matter and generally starts with 'E'.

Counsel
Another word to describe barristers acting for the defence or the prosecution.

Counsel for the Prosecution
Another name for a Crown Prosecutor (see below)

Court
The building where the case is heard. Also used to describe in general terms the judicial officer hearing the case, such as a magistrate or judge.

Court Attendance Notice (CANs)
The notice issued to those accused of an offence requiring them to attend court. It is a legal document handed personally to the accused by a court-appointed person which states when and where they should appear in court and the charge they have to answer. It is handed to the person once they are charged unless they are detained by police in custody, or gaol.
See also
Local Courts website
Criminal Procedure Act 1986 Section 50

Court Officer
A person employed to assist with the running of the court. Generally this person will call your name when you are required by the court to give evidence. They can answer queries about when your matter is likely to be heard.

Crime
An illegal (or unlawful) act.

Criminal history
A record of offences of which a person has been convicted.

Cross-examination
When the lawyer for the accused (defence) asks questions of the witness about the evidence they have given and other matters.

Crown Prosecutor
A barrister who presents the prosecution case in court. Also known as Crown.

CSI
The police acronym for Crime Scene Investigation

 


D

Defence
The accused person's case and the lawyers who represent them.

Defence counsel
A barrister who presents the accused person's case in court.

Deliberations
When the jury leave court and go to a special room to make their decision.

Deposition
A typed copy of the evidence recorded in court.

Department of Community Services (DoCS)
The former name of the government department now called Family and Community Services (FACS).

Dock
An enclosure in a court where a defendant sits during a trial.


E

Electoral Roll
The list of names of people registered to vote. This list supplies the names of people who could be asked to do jury duty.

Empanel a Jury
Picking 12 people out of a larger group that have all been asked to come and sit on a jury.

Evidence
This is information provided to the court. Your statement forms the basis of the information or evidence that you will give in court, that is, what you saw, heard or experienced.

Evidence-in-Chief/Examination-in-Chief
When the prosecutor asks the witness questions so that they can tell the court what happened.

Exhibits
All the other evidence (apart from statements from witnesses) needed to help present the case, such as documents, photographs, clothing or other items relevant to the case.


F

Forensic Evidence
Evidence found where the crime happened, such as fingerprints, results of blood tests, DNA etc.

Forensic Medical Examination/Procedure
The victim and/or accused may be requested to undergo an examination, for example mouth swab, in order to provide possible evidence for the case.

Forensic Patient
An accused person suffering from a mental illness so severe that at the time the crime was committed, the person could not form the intent to commit the crime. This term also refers to an accused person whose mental condition at the time of the trial renders him or her unfit to be tried. The accused is not unfit simply because he or she is unable to remember the events and unable to give a version to his or her counsel.


H

Hung Jury
If the majority of the people on a jury cannot agree whether the accused is guilty or not guilty it is called a hung jury.


I

Indictable Offence
An offence punishable by two years imprisonment or more. The less serious indictable offences are usually heard in a Local court, the more serious indictable offences are usually heard in a higher court before a judge and jury (or judge alone).

Indictment
The formal charge for more serious cases. Used in the District and Supreme Courts.

Instructing solicitor
A solicitor who helps with the preparation of the case and helps the barrister in court.


J

Joint Investigation Response Teams (JIRTs)
Joint Investigation Response Teams (JIRTs) are made up of DoCS, NSW Police and NSW Health professionals who undertake joint investigation of child protection matters.

Judge
The Judge is in charge of the court and makes sure that it is run fairly for both sides. The Judge is called 'your honour'. The Judge decides the sentence of a convicted offender.

Judge's Associate
A person who helps the judge in court with documents used in the case, such as exhibits.

Jury
Twelve people who listen to all the evidence to decide if the accused person is guilty or not.


L

LAC
The police acronym for Local Area Command. An administrative unit within the NSW Police Force

Legal argument
An argument between the lawyers on both sides that has to be decided by the judge; the witness and jury usually leave when this happens.


M

Magistrate
The person in charge of the Children's or Local Court who decides whether someone is guilty, not guilty or needs to be sent to the District Court for a trial; called 'your honour'.

Majority verdicts
The verdict may be decided by the majority of jurors if one person disagrees with the majority.

Means Test
Examining a person's income and assets to see if they may be eligible for benefits.

Mention
A brief hearing to sort out what will happen with the case, such as setting a date for the committal hearing or deciding bail. It is not a full hearing of the case.


N

No Bill/No Further Proceedings
The ODPP may decide that a case will not go to court and this is known as no bill, or no further proceedings. Generally it means that the ODPP has decided that the evidence against the accused is not enough for the accused to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a hearing or trial.

Non-Publication Order
If you are under 16 years of age or a victim of sexual assault, your name and other details cannot be published or broadcast in the media unless you want them to to be.


O

Oath
A promise to tell the truth in court by swearing on a religious book that is important to the person making the promise.

Objections
When the defence or prosecution believe a question is not a fair one they can object and the judge/magistrate must decide based on the rules of the court.

ODPP
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP). An independent body established by the State government to prosecute serious criminal offences. The ODPP provides a solicitor and/or Crown Prosecutor to prepare and present the case at court.
More on the ODPP

Offender
A person who does something which is prohibited by law.
See also Terms for an 'offender' at various stages of a criminal case'

Open Court
When people other than witnesses can sit in court.


P

PAL
The police acronym for Police Assistance Line - the main telephone number for reporting crime to NSW Police.

Paper Committal
A paper committal is when the Magistrate reads the brief and decides on the reading that there is enough evidence to send the case to trial.

Parliament
The highest law-making body, also known as the legislature.

Parties
There are two parties to the proceedings in a criminal matter, the crown and the accused (defence).

Plea
When the accused tells the court whether they are guilty or not guilty of the charge.

POI
The police acronym for Person Of Interest. This has replaced the old term "suspect".

Police Prosecutor
A person from the police who will present the evidence against the person who is accused of breaking the law.

Police/Victim card
When you report a crime to a police officer you will be given a Police/Victim Card to keep for future reference.

On the front of the card are the contact details for the police officer in charge of the investigation - the name of the police officer, police station, phone number and the reference number or COPS Event number for your matter.

On the back of the card you will find some of the important rights for victims of crime and contact details for the Victims Support Line if you need support or referrals

These cards are pre-printed for each police Local Area Command.

See also:
Justice Journey page - Reporting the Crime

Pre-Sentence Report
A report to assist the court in deciding what sentence to give a person who is convicted of an offence.

Prosecutor/Prosecution
In the Local Court or Children's Court, the prosecutor is a specially trained police officer. The prosecutor does not wear a police uniform.

In the District and Supreme Court, the prosecutor is a solicitor or barrister from the ODPP.

The prosecutor represents the government in a criminal case and the interests of the crown at court. In criminal cases, the prosecutor has the responsibility of deciding who and when to prosecute.

Public Gallery
Seats at the back of the court where friends, family or anyone interested can sit quietly and listen.


R

Remand
The act of sending an accused person back into custody whilst awaiting trial.

Re-trial
A new trial of the same matter.

Right to Silence
This is a rule to say that a person accused of breaking the law does not have to say anything from the time he is arrested through to the end of the trial.


S

Sentencing
A range of penalties can be given during sentencing of a convicted offender including imprisonment, community service orders, good behaviour bonds and fines.

Sheriff's Officer
An officer responsible for security of all parties while at court. You can advise the Sheriff's Officer if you have any concerns for your safety.

SIO
The police acronym for Senior Investigating Officer.

SOCO
The police acronym for Scene Of Crime Officer.

SOPS
The police acronym for Standard Operating Procedures.

Statement
A written document that sets out the evidence of a witness or an accused.

Subpoena
A court order to summon (make) a witness come to court to give evidence and/or bring documents to court.

Summary Hearing
A hearing to decide an offence in a Local Court by a Magistrate that is not sent for trial before a judge and jury.

Summary Offence
A charge that is dealt with in the local court.

Summing Up
A judge's review of the evidence and explanation of the law for a jury.

Summons
An order from the local court requiring the accused to come to court to answer a charge.

Support Person
In the context of a court case - a person that a witness will sometimes have who can sit near them in the courtroom.
In the context of reporting crime to police - a support person is defined a little differently.

See also:

 


T

Transcript
A typed copy of what was said in the court.

Trial
A hearing in a court where all evidence is heard and a final decision is made.


U

Unanimous
This is where all members of the Jury agree that the accused is guilty or not guilty.

Unrepresented
If the accused does not have a lawyer.


V

Verdict
The decision of a jury in a criminal trial.

Victim
The person against whom a crime has been committed.

Victim Impact Statement (VIS)
A statement read or presented after conviction and before the sentencing of an offender which informs the court about the harm suffered by the victim arising from the offence.

Voir dire
Legal argument about the admissibility of a particular piece of evidence in court. The witness and the jury are sent out of court while this argument takes place.

Vulnerable person
Vulnerable persons are defined differently by different organisations. Please refer to the Vulnerable Persons webpage for more information


W

Witness
Any person who has to come to court and answer questions in front of a Magistrate or Judge and jury.

Witness expenses
Witnesses can be paid expenses, in accordance with a set scale, as a contribution towards loss of wages, travelling and related expenses.