Victoria Legal Aid

Legal words

Learn about some common legal words you may find on our website or in court.


accused – person charged with charged with committing an offence

adjourn – to ask the court to delay your court case until a later date. If the court allows this, the delay is called an adjournment

administrator – 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. The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) hears matters under the Guardianship List

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

alcohol interlock – a device that is fitted to your vehicle’s ignition to measure your breath for alcohol. If the alcohol interlock detects alcohol, the car will not start

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, tribunal or government department

applicant – the person applying for a court order

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

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

associate of the respondent – a person the respondent can influence to act for them, such as a friend or relative

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 bail guarantor for you

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

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 a person is guilty

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

breach – to break a law or court order

brief of evidence – the things that make up the police’s case against you if you have been charged with a crime. This can include the charge sheet, the informant’s statement, your criminal record and other documents the police have about your matter


case – your legal issues in the court system

caveat – a formal notice that certain actions may not happen without first telling the person who gave the notice. For example if someone puts a caveat on your house, you cannot transfer ownership of your house until the caveat is removed

certified copy – copy of a document on which an authorised person has certified: ‘This is a true and complete copy of the original.’

charge – this term is used two ways. Firstly, it is an action the police can take. When the police charge you with an offence, this means they believe you have broken the law and are taking you to court. Secondly, once the police have charged you with committing an offence, the offence is also referred to as the charge. For example, if you have come to court for a driving charge. Note: agencies like your local council or the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources can also charge you

charge and summons – when the police charge you, this can also be referred to as charge and summons. The ‘summons’ part of this means that the court is ordering you to come to court to answer the police charges

charge sheet – a document that lists all the offences the police or the prosecuting agency have charged you with. The charge sheet can have more than one offence if the police or prosecuting agency believe that what you did broke more than one law

codicil – legal document used to change a Will

community corrections order – a penalty the court can give you if you have been found guilty of committing a serious offence. You serve this penalty in the community. You must agree to this order. You will usually do unpaid community work, as well as being supervised by a corrections worker, undergoing treatment or rehabilitation, or having bans on where you can go, who you can see and how long you can stay out

committal – the first part of a court case where a magistrate decides if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial. The magistrate does not decide if you are guilty or not guilty

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

consent – when you freely and voluntarily 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

contested hearing – if you plead not guilty at the mention hearing (the first hearing), the magistrate adjourns your case to a contested hearing. At this hearing, the magistrate decides if you are guilty or not guilty.

contested hearing (intervention orders) – if you do not agree to the making of an intervention order, the magistrate can adjourn your case to a contested hearing. At this hearing, the magistrate decides if there are grounds to make the intervention order.

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

convict/conviction – if a judge or magistrate finds you guilty, they can give you a penalty with or without conviction. This depends on how serious the offence is and whether you have any prior convictions.

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 document from the court 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 formal record that shows your findings of guilt and convictions for previous offences

custodial sentence – a sentence that is served in jail or custody

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


de facto spouse – a person who is living with another as if they were a married couple although they are not

deed – a document that is signed, officially sealed and delivered

defence – a legal reason why you believe you are not guilty of the offence you have been charged with

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

deponent – a person making an affidavit

discretion – when the magistrate has a choice to do or not do something

diversion – a way to deal with your criminal matter out of the court system and to give you a chance to avoid a criminal record

diversion hearing – a hearing where the magistrate decides whether or not to grant you diversion

diversion notice – a form the police can fill out to indicate they agree to you being granted diversion

diversion recommendation – when the informant agrees to recommend you for diversion

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

driver disqualification – the court cancels your licence and orders you not to drive

drug impairment assessment – a test that police can tell you to do if they suspect that you are driving while you are affected by drugs

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 – a document that allows a person to make financial, personal and legal decisions for you, even after you cannot make decisions for 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 (documents, witnesses or exhibits) used in court to prove something

ex parte – a court hearing that goes ahead and makes a decision even though one of the parties is not at court

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

exclusion order – an order from the court that stops a person from going to a specific area or place. The order could ban a person from going to a public place or from going near the family home after an intervention order has been made against them

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

exhibit – an object shown in court to help prove something, for example jewellery, drugs or weaponry found in the defendant's possession


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 after 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 emotional and financial abuse, as well as physical violence and sexual abuse. It also includes exposing children to the effects of these behaviours.

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 Panel – Legal firms who are members of this panel deal with matters involving legally assisted family violence (and personal safety) intervention order matters that are heard and determined in the Magistrates’ Court or Children’s Court (Family Division) or are County Court appeals

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

federal circuit court judge – a person who makes sure the court case follows the rules and makes the decisions in the Federal Circuit 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 to find evidence and assess if you need further treatment. This may involve taking body samples like blood, pubic hair, anal, genital or breast swabs, saliva, and mouth or dental impressions and taking notes about recent injuries. A specially trained doctor, nurse or dentist must do these procedures


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 by the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) 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. The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) hears matters under the Guardianship List

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 or tribunal


illicit drug – illegal drugs including methylamphetamine (speed), MDMA (ecstasy) or THC (cannabis)

immobilise – to stop a vehicle being driven by using a wheel-clamp or a steering wheel lock

impound – to store a car in a secure lock-up for a set amount of time

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 where you may have to go before a judge and jury in the higher courts. Many indictable offences can be heard in the Magistrates’ Court if you and the magistrate agree

informant – the police officer or government official (for example, a ticket inspector) who charged you and who may give evidence against you in court

informant’s statement – the informant’s description of how they believe you broke the law

infringement notice – a notice stating that money you have to pay for minor offences, such as littering, parking or traffic offences (also known as an ‘on the spot’ fine). You have the option of going to court instead

infringement warrant – a court document that allows a sheriff to take certain actions such as coming to your address and demanding payment, wheel clamping your vehicle or giving a notice saying they plan to suspend your license

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


jointly appointed – when two people are appointed as attorneys and both must agree on a decision for that decision to be valid

jointly and severally appointed – when two or more people are appointed as attorneys and either one or all can make a valid decision

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 twelve 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

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

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 you ask a mechanic to repair your car they can claim a lien over the car until the work is paid for


magistrate – an officer of the Magistrates' Court who is responsible for deciding what order to make

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

mention hearing – the first hearing for a case in the Magistrates’ Court where the person is asked if they are pleading guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty the matter may be heard and decided at this hearing


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

notice to appear – a document you may get when the police suspect you of breaking the law. The document tells you to go to court on a certain date. The police will usually give the notice to appear to you rather than sending it to you

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

offender – person who has committed a crime


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

penalty – a punishment for breaking the law

penalty units – are used to calculate the amount of a fine. The amount of one penalty unit is indexed and increases each year on 1 July. For the current amount see Penalty units.

perpetrator – a person who breaks the law

plea/plead – a plea is your response in the courtroom 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 summary – what the police say happened

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

preliminary brief – this is a shorter version of the brief of evidence, which you will get earlier on in the process. The preliminary brief will give you details of the prosecution’s case but does not need to include any evidence

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

prosecution authority – a person from an agency who has the authority to present the agency’s case in court. For example it could be an authorised officer from a local council, the Department of Economic Development, Jobs Transport and Resources, the Australian Taxation Office or a fisheries officer from the Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning

prosecutor – the police officer who gives the police’s case in the courtroom, also referred to as the police prosecutor. The prosecutor can also be a government official (for example, a corrections worker) or someone working for an agency that issued you with an infringement notice

proven – when the magistrate has found you guilty of committing the offence


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 or power of attorney


sentence – this term is used two ways. Firstly, if the magistrate finds you guilty, they will 'sentence' you according to the offence you committed. That means the magistrate gives you a penalty and, if your offence was serious, the magistrate may also give you a conviction. Secondly, the conviction and the penalty is referred to as the 'sentence'

sentencing indication – the magistrate can give you an idea of what sentence they would give you if they find you guilty. This may help you to decide if you want to keep pleading not guilty or to plead guilty

serve – this term is used two ways. Firstly, it is the legal delivery of a document. Secondly, it is when you follow orders from a court or VicRoads. For example, if you serve a licence suspension, you do not drive when the court has ordered you not to

sheriff – a person who carries out sanctions if you do not do what it says in a court order. For example, if they have a warrant they can take possession of your property

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. A statement can be used as evidence in court

statement of alleged facts – this is the informant’s statement of what the offence was and how it happened. The statement of alleged facts can contain evidence from witnesses, if there were any

statutory declaration – a document where a person makes a statement and acknowledges that it is made in the belief that, if the statement is false, the person is liable to penalties for perjury

stay/stayed – to stay means the court puts a court order on hold until after a rehearing or an appeal. When the court orders are on hold they are stayed

stood down – your case is put on hold briefly and usually called back on that same day for completion

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

summary case conference – a meeting between you (or your lawyer) and the police prosecutor where you talk about your charges and exactly what you disagree with. You have this meeting before you go into the courtroom and plead not guilty

summary offence – an offence that is less serious and can be heard in the Magistrates’ Court or Children's Court. With the exception of offences under the Crimes Act, all offences are summary offences unless the law says they are indictable (more serious) offences

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

surrender notice – a notice that police may serve on the owner of a vehicle if they believe it was used for hoon driving

suspect – a person police believe may have been involved in criminal offence

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


Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) – deals with disputes, including residential tenancy and guardianship and administration matters


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 at court. Also a person who is present when someone signs a document who confirms that the signature is genuine by adding their own signature

witness summons – a document used to summon a witness to come to court to give evidence or to give in documents as evidence

Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.

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Reviewed 23 March 2024

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