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Definitions: Understanding Legal Words

Below are definitions of some common legal words or terms that may assist you in your viewing of this site and other law related sites you may visit.

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Adjournment: the postponement of a court proceeding or session until another date; may be with a specified date or without which is sometimes referred to as being “adjourned sine die”; “sine die” is the Latin term meaning without a day; see Remand;

Absolute Discharge: where a person is found guilty, instead of convicting the person, the judge grants an absolute discharge;

Accused: person who is charged with a crime;

Act: a statute enacted or passed into law by a legislature or Parliament;

Action: a civil law proceeding, often referred to as a “lawsuit” and commenced by a Statement of Claim;

Affidavit: a written statement of fact either sworn or affirmed by the person making it (called the “deponent”); a form of evidence (in contrast to verbal testimony given in court) filed and to be considered by the judge in deciding a particular matter;

Affidavit of Service: an Affidavit which sets out the manner, time and place that a particular court document(s) was served upon a person; is usually filed with the court as proof that a person was served with a particular document(s) in accordance with an order or rules of the court;

Amicus Curiae: a Latin term meaning “friend of the court”; commonly found in family law cases; a person, usually a lawyer, is appointed as “amicus” on behalf of a child by the court. The amicus is responsible to the court in providing whatever input the court requires, i.e. the views of the child respecting proposed custody arrangements;

Appeal Book: a bound volume filed with an appeal court by the Appellant which contains all of the documents, affidavit evidence, orders, listing of exhibits filed, judgment and reasons for the decision that have been filed in the court from which the appeal is made; may also be called an “Appellant’s or Respondent’s Record” as at the Supreme Court of Canada;

Appellant: the person who takes an appeal of a decision of a court or other decision-making body;

Applicant: person who applies to the court for a remedy or relief set out in an Application;

Application: a request of the court to make an order for the remedy or relief requested;

Argument: the address or presentation to the court by the parties with the aim of persuading the court to make a decision in their favour; the argument is not evidence; may be in written form contained in a brief submitted to the court; also “closing arguments” used to describe closing remarks or address to the jury by the Crown and defence in a criminal jury trial;

Arraignment: a proceeding in a criminal case where the accused is brought before the court to enter a plea to the crime with which he/she is charged. The charge is read to the accused and the accused is asked to plead guilty or not guilty;

Assize: another term for jury; also a sitting of the court in locations away from the main court centre;

Bail: in the Criminal Code called “judicial interim release”; the release of an accused from custody pending the trial or conclusion of their case; may also be granted to a convicted person pending the conclusion of an appeal of their conviction; the release or bail includes conditions that must be followed by the accused or his/her bail may be revoked by the court;

Bar: a barrier in the courtroom which separates the court from the public; a term used to describe the members of the legal profession or lawyers as a group - “members of the bar”; the term “called to the bar” refers to the court proceeding when a law student is called by the court to be a Barrister and Solicitor (a lawyer) and is therefore permitted in front of the bar in the courtroom;

Case Conference: a meeting of a judge and the parties and/or their lawyers to ensure that procedures are followed for the cost-effective and timely determination of the case and to explore the possibility of settlement of issues in the case;

Caveat: a formal notice or warning against certain actions being taken by a court; most often seen in regard to the granting of probate of a will by the court; most common usage as a document that is filed in the Land Titles Office to warn of possible title defects;

Certiorari: an “extraordinary remedy” used by a superior court to quash or cancel an order or decision made without jurisdiction by a lower court or tribunal;

Civil Case: a court proceeding which involves legal issues between individuals/organizations/governments; court proceedings other than criminal matters; may or may not refer to cases involving family law disputes;

Common Law: the law stated in the decisions of judges from early times to the present;

Concurrent Sentence: sentences for two or more offences that are served at the same time rather than one after the other or consecutively; where sentences are concurrent, the length of sentence will be that of the longest sentence given;

Conditional Discharge: where a person is found guilty, instead of convicting the person, the judge grants a conditional discharge and when the conditions are satisfied, the discharge becomes absolute;

Conditional Sentence: where a sentence of imprisonment of two years or less is given, the judge may order that the sentence be served in the community subject to conditions;

Consecutive Sentence: sentences for two or more offences that are served one after the other or consecutively, not at the same time as with concurrent sentences;

Contested: a term used primarily in civil proceedings to describe a proceeding where the respondent/defendant takes steps to “contest” the claims of the plaintiff/applicant; as opposed to an “uncontested” matter where the responding party does not take any steps to oppose the claim of the plaintiff/applicant;

Conviction: in a criminal case, the determination by the court that an accused is guilty of an offence; the “conviction date” is when the accused was found guilty or convicted of the offence by the court and the sentencing of the accused may take place at that time or be adjourned to a later date;

Coram: a Latin word meaning “in the presence of”; often used in appeal court judgments indicating the panel of appeal judges before whom a case was heard;

Costs: see Solicitor and Clients Costs or Party and party Costs;

Counsel: to advise or persuade a person; another term for lawyer as in “legal counsel”;

Defendant: in a civil case, the person who is being sued and in a criminal case may be used in place of the “accused”;

Disposition: the outcome of a case;

Docket: the list or schedule of court cases to be heard on a particular day; a brief record of the proceedings in the court for a particular day;

Ex Parte: where a court proceeding is heard in the presence of one party only and without notice to the other party(s); in the rules of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba, the term ex parte has been replaced with words “without notice”;

Exhibit: physical evidence that has been tendered or filed with the court, for example a document, weapon, item of clothing;

Factum: a bound volume filed with an appeal court which is made up of four parts: (1) an introduction as to what the appeal is about; (2) a summary of the facts that relate to the issues in the appeal; (3) a list of the issues in the appeal; and (4) an argument which contains statements setting out the law and facts to be discussed with reference to the particular evidence;

General Damages: compensation sought by the Plaintiff in an action that is not specified but where the court is to determine the appropriate amount to be awarded as damages;

Habeas Corpus: an “extraordinary remedy” which requires anyone detaining a person to justify the detention to a superior court; generally used in criminal proceedings requesting the court to release a person from unlawful imprisonment; in Latin literally means “you have the body”;

Indictable Offence: one of the categories of offences set out in the Criminal Code; generally refers to a serious offence which is subject to a greater penalty than the less serious summary conviction offence;

Indictment: a formal accusation of a criminal offence having been committed by an accused(s) contained in a document filed with the court by the crown prosecutor;

Information: a sworn or affirmed statement made by an informant who has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the accused(s) has committed a criminal offence;

Injunction: an order of the court requiring a person to not do some act or not continue to do some act that the court considers they have no right to do or, in the case of a mandatory injunction, an order that requires the person to do what the court considers they are legally required to do.

Interim Order: a decision of a court that is not the final outcome of the matter; commonly occurs in family law cases where an interim order is made by the court regarding issues that may ultimately be decided at a later date, i.e. at a trial;

Judgment: the final decision by the court in a legal proceeding; judgment and decision are often used in the place of each other; may be written or given orally in court; may also be reserved by the court at the end of the proceeding and given at a later date, usually in written form;

Jurisdiction: the scope of authority given to a particular court, tribunal or other decision-making body; the types of cases a court or decision-making body has the power to determine; the geographical area in which a court or decision-making body has the power to make decisions;

Justice of the Peace: a judicial officer with authority to determine minor criminal offences and civil proceedings as set out in a particular statute;

Leave: the permission of the court to proceed; for example, to “seek the leave of the court” to file an appeal;

Mandamus: an “extraordinary remedy” used by a superior court to require a lower court or tribunal to exercise an authority that it has;

Master: a judicial officer of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Manitoba and who has authority to make procedural orders during the course of a court proceeding and other orders as set out in the Rules of the Court;

Motion: a request from the court for an order for the relief or remedy requested which occurs during the course of a court proceeding;

Offence: a crime; an act committed contrary to the law as set out in a statute such as the Criminal Code or a provincial statute;

Order: a decision of a court or other decision-making body that may or may not be the final outcome of the matter;

Pardon: an exemption from a conviction for a criminal offence resulting in the person no longer having a criminal record of the offence committed. The National Parole Board may grant a pardon to anyone who has served his/her sentence and demonstrated that he/she is a responsible citizen. Usually a waiting period is required before being eligible for a pardon;

Particulars: detailed information of the alleged facts of a criminal offence with which the accused has been charged;

Party: a person who is plaintiff/defendant or applicant/respondent in a civil proceeding or in a criminal context, a person who actually commits an offence or who is liable as a party to an offence by reason of aiding or abetting or conspiring or counseling the commission of an offence;

Party and Party Costs: the costs that may be awarded by the court to a party in accordance with the tariff or schedule of costs set by the court for that particular proceeding, e.g. costs set by the court for the hearing of a motion; does not include the party’s lawyer’s fees;

Per Curiam: a Latin term meaning “by the court”; sometimes the written reasons for the decision of an appeal court are not acknowledged to be the reasons of a particular judge of the court but of the court as a whole and the reasons are given under the heading “per curiam”;

Petition: a document which commences a civil proceeding other than an action or law suit (which is commenced by a Statement of Claim); a Petition usually seeks from the court relief that is set out under a particular statute, for example a Petition for a Divorce under the federal Divorce Act;

Plaintiff: the person who commences an action or “law suit”;

Pleadings: the documents that are filed with the court by the parties to a proceeding which sets out the issues or matters to be determined by the court; the foundational documents which form the record of the case with the court;

Point of Law: a question regarding a law or legal issue as opposed to a question regarding the facts involved in a legal proceeding; a term often used in determining whether an appeal can be taken of a decision. Some appeals can only be made on a point of law, and not in regard to the facts of the case as they were determined by the trial judge. However, in some cases, the difference between a point of law and a point of fact may be unclear or mixed;

Preliminary Inquiry: a hearing before a Provincial Court Judge to decide whether there is sufficient evidence for the accused to go to trial; a preliminary inquiry only takes place where the accused is charged with an indictable offence and chooses to be tried by a judge or judge and jury of the superior trial court;

Pre-Trial Conference: a meeting between the parties and/or their lawyers and a judge to settle procedural questions and define or narrow the issues to be tried; settlement of trial issues may also occur;

Prima Facie: a Latin term meaning “at first sight”; used to describe a fact that is presumed to be true unless disproved by contrary evidence;

Private Prosecution: where an individual prosecutes a criminal charge against a person as opposed to a public prosecution by a Crown Attorney and where the charge is laid by a policing agency; the Criminal Code provides for individual citizens to be able to prosecute a person that the individual believes has committed a criminal offence and where the state or Crown refuses to do so;

Pro Bono: a Latin term meaning “for the good”; used to describe a lawyer’s services that are provided free of charge;

Probate: the determination of the court as to the validity of a will; the Probate Division of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench handles all matters involving the administration of estates and handles requests for both the granting of probate of a will and the letters of administration of an estate without a will;

Probation: a court order made as part of a sentence requiring the accused to keep the peace and be of good behaviour and other conditions that the court requires; a probation order is limited to a certain time frame, e.g. two years, and may be unsupervised or require the supervision of a probation officer;

Prohibition: an “extraordinary remedy” used by a superior court to prohibit a lower court or tribunal from exercising or continuing to exercise an authority it does not have;

Puisne Judge: a Norman-French name for a judge of a court who is not the Chief Justice or Associate Chief Justice;

Quash: to void a particular legal proceeding or decision, i.e. quash an order of the court, making the order of no force or effect, as if the order had not been made;

R. v. (name): the R. stands for “Regina” which is the Latin word for Queen or “Rex” which is the Latin word for King; the “v.” stands for versus or against; in criminal proceedings the name of the case is referred to as, e.g. “R v. Smith” or “The Queen versus Smith”. When the monarch on the throne changes to a King, then the “R.” will refer to “The King”;

Recognizance: a bail document signed by the accused stating the terms and conditions upon which the accused is being released;

Record of Proceedings: in regard to a particular case, the listing or recording by the court of all of the appearances and/or proceedings and their outcomes before the court;

Registrar: an officer of the court office or “registry” who receives documents for filing with the court and who has authority to certify or confirm decisions on behalf of the court;

Regulation: a rule or order made by government to carry out the purpose set out in a statute;

Remand: to put over a criminal proceeding to another date; unlike civil proceedings where an adjournment might be to an unfixed date, a remand requires the court to set a future date when the matter will come back before the court; see Adjournment;

Respondent: the person who is in response to or in opposition to an Application made by the Applicant; also a person who is in response to or in opposition to an appeal taken by an Appellant;

Rule of Law: another phrase for law and order; the principles that require that the powers of the state be derived from and limited either by legislation enacted by Parliament or a legislature or judicial decisions made by independent courts;

Rules of Court: the procedures which govern the proceedings in the court and which are to be followed by the parties;

Service: the delivering to a person of a copy of a document that has been filed with the court; the manner of service, e.g. in person, and time frame within which service must occur is set out in the Rules of Court or in the particular statute governing the case;

Sheriff: an officer of the court who is responsible for maintaining the security of the court which includes the escorting of accused persons in custody; Sheriff officers also coordinate the summoning of jurors and ensure the security of jurors in criminal jury trials and provide assistance in the serving of court documents and the carrying out of court orders, e.g. for the seizure and sale of assets of indebted persons;

Short Leave: a request of the court that a matter be heard by the court, i.e. a motion, within a time frame that is shorter than what is normally required by the rules of the court; usually short leave is asked for when the matter is considered to be urgent by the requesting party;

Sine die: a Latin term meaning “without day”; where a court proceeding is adjourned “sine die” there is no specific date set for when the proceeding will be back before the court; often used in civil proceedings where the court grants an adjournment “sine die” and it is the responsibility of the parties to bring the matter back to court at a date and time that is agreeable to the parties;

Solicitor and Client Costs: also called “lawyer and client costs”, refers to the court awarding costs to a party that include the legal fees (or portion thereof) of the party who has been awarded costs;

Special Damages: a sum of money claimed as damages by a Plaintiff in an action or law suit; in contrast to general damages which does not specify an amount but asks the court to award and determine the appropriate amount;

Stare Decisis: a Latin term meaning “ to abide by decided cases”; this principle of the common law requires judges to apply previous binding decisions of their own court or any higher court;

Statement of Claim: a pleading in civil law proceedings where the Plaintiff alleges the facts relied upon in support of the relief or remedy claimed; the document which commences an action or “law suit”;

Statement of Defence: the pleading in response or defence to the Statement of Claim in civil law proceedings where the Defendant alleges the facts relied upon in defence of the claim made in the action or “law suit”;

Statute: a law or Act enacted or passed into law by Parliament or a legislature;

Submission: similar to argument; the address or presentation of the parties to the court at the end of a particular proceeding, after the evidence has been presented and before the court is to make its decision; an opportunity for the parties to summarize the issues, evidence and law and to persuade the court to make a decision in their favour;

Subpoena: a command to appear at a specific time and place to give testimony in regard to a particular matter; some subpoenas may require the person to produce a document or other things in his/her possession;

Summary Conviction Offence: a lesser criminal offence in contrast to an indictable offence; the maximum sentence for a summary conviction offence under the Criminal Code is a fine of $2,000.00 and/or to imprisonment for six months;

Summons: a document which requires a person to attend to the court on a specified date and time to answer or respond to a complaint filed with the court; a process in criminal proceedings to require an accused person to attend court to answer to a criminal charge;

Surety: in criminal proceedings, a person who, with or without being required to post a sum of money or security, guarantees that an accused person who has been granted bail will appear for his or her trial and/or next scheduled court appearance;

Suspended Sentence: where a person is found guilty, the court suspends the passing of a sentence and releases the offender on conditions set out in a probation order. Upon the expiration of the probation order, where the person has not been charged with further offences and has complied with all conditions of a probation order, the court will not sentence the person;

Tariff: a list or schedule of the costs of particular court processes and filings with the court; when a court awards costs to a party it is usually based on the tariff established by the court;

Title of Proceedings: the formal name of the court case; in civil proceedings for example: “John Smith v. John Jones”; in criminal proceedings for example: “The Queen v. John Smith”; the heading in a court document which describes the parties to the legal proceeding; may also be called the “style of cause”;

Transcript: the official paper record of a court proceeding which is produced by the transcribing of a recording of the proceedings taken in court, e.g. from an audio cassette or digital disc recording;

Viva Voce Evidence: oral evidence of a witness in a court proceeding as opposed to evidence given in the form of an Affidavit; “viva voce” is a Latin term meaning “living voice”;

Voir Dire: a Norman-French term for a trial or hearing within the course of a trial to determine whether evidence put forward by one party or the other is admissible. If at the end of the voir dire the evidence is found to be inadmissible, then it cannot be considered in determining the guilt of an accused. In jury trials, the voir dire is conducted in the absence of the jury and the proceeding cannot be reported upon or published;

Warrant: a command or order of the court; there are numerous warrants in criminal proceedings such as an arrest warrant which is an order of the court to arrest an accused person and bring him or her before the court to answer to the offence with which the person has been charged; or a search warrant which is an order of the court permitting the search by peace officers of a particular premises for particular things respecting a criminal offence that are to be brought before the court;

Writ: an order issued by the court requiring the performance of a specified act or the giving of authority to have it done;

Information on this page last updated on January 21, 2014