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Court Terminology


Absolute Discharge A person who has been found guilty or has plead guilty may be discharged by the court without conditions. This decision will be in the best interest of the accused and will not be contrary to the public interest. Charges are dropped completely without qualification or condition.
Abetting Encouraging, inciting or urging another person to committ a crime.
Appearance Notice A legal document detailing what criminal offence the accused is charged with and the court date the accused must attend.
Acquittal A legal certification that a person who has been charged with a crime has been found not guilty by the process of a trial.
Actus Reus A Latin phrase meaning "a wrongful deed"; the criminal act, which with mens rea makes one criminally liable.
Adjournment A postponement of a court hearing or court sitting. This is usually the result of a schedule proceeding not being completed or ready to proceed. Usually adjourned to a specified time and date.
Alternative Measures Adult: Where a person is alleged to have committed an offence and the prerequisites of s. 717 CC are met, there may be no prosecution at all. Instead, the offender would perform some service to the community
Youth: See Youth Criminal Justice Act flow chart.
Appeal A formal challenge to a court decision. A conviction or disposition can be appealed by the defence counsel or the prosecutor. The appeal will take place in a higher court (eg: Provincial appealed in Queen's Bench; QB appealed in AB Court of Appeal)
Appearance Notice The formal written notice issued by a peace officer to a person alleging the commission of a crime and requiring that person to attend court at a specific time and date.
Arraignment The procedure whereby the accused is brought before the higher level of court (Court of Queen's Bench) and the substance of the charges against him/her are read A trial date is most often set at this time.
Bail A guarantee (usually money) given to a court assuring the accused will:
  • remain within jurisdiction; and
  • appear in court (when required) to answer the charge.
Bail Application An application before a Judge:
  • giving particulars of the offence, the accused's past appearances and record
  • Judge exercises judicial discretion as to whether or not the accused is:
  • held in custody pending trial
  • released with or without conditions
Charge The formal accusation against a person that a crime has been committed. Each time an offence is alleged to have been committed it is a count.
Committed to Trial in Queen's Bench To officially send an accused person for trial in Queen's Bench as a result of a Preliminary Hearing that was held at Provincial Court.
Concurrent Sentence Two or more sentences being served at the same time-the length being determined by the longest sentenced imposed (eg. 4 months B&E; 6 months theft-sentence 6 months)
Conditional Discharge When a court decides that a person found guilty may be discharged on certain terms and conditions as set forth in the order providing that it is in the best interest of the accused and not contrary to the public interest. Charges are withheld pending the accused meeting conditions of the release.
Conditional Sentence A penalty (sentence) for a crime of a term of less than two years that is served in the community if the offender meets certain expectations.
Consecutive Sentence Two or more sentences to be served, one immediately following the other (eg. 4 months B&E; 4 months theft-sentence 8 months).
Conviction A judgment or sentence imposed by the court as a result of a finding of guilt.
Crown Counsel The prosecutor representing the interests of Canada in Criminal Code charges.
Defence Counsel The lawyer retained by the offender to represent his/her interests.
Defendant In criminal law, the person charged with an offence; in civil law, the party being sued.
Direct Evidence Information (evidence) given by a person who witnessed the event in question (ex. testimony by a bystander who saw an assault take place).
Disclosure In criminal cases, a stage in proceedings for a trial by jury in which the Crown attorney and the defense must meet to reveal all evidence; after which, charges would be dropped if the defense proves the Crown has no case.
Dismissed Charges are discontinued by a judge on legal grounds and no further court proceedings will follow. (eg. Incorrect charging section; civil rights violation)
Disposition The final decision by the court (eg. sentence, probation, peace bond). The case has been completed and disposed of by the court.
Diversion Programs Sentences that keep offenders out of prison (eg. suspended sentence, probation).
Election Legal term for "choice"
  • Crown elects how it will proceed (Summary or Indictable)
  • In Indictable matters - accused may elect
  • Stand trial in Provincial Court
  • Stand trial in Court of Queen's Bench and choose
  • To be tried by Judge alone OR
  • To be tried by Judge and Jury
Election and/or Plea The election and plea can occur in one appearance before the court OR in separate appearances before the court.
Fine A sum of money assessed by a court as the punishment it has imposed on a person guilty of an offence.
First Appearance The accused appears in court:
  • to be advised of the offence(s) that he/she is being accused of committing
  • to ensure that the accused is aware of his/her right to legal counsel
Gaol (Jail) An old English term for jail-now obsolete.
Guilt (Finding of) After all the evidence is presented by the Crown and Defence, the accused is found guilty of the charges laid against him/her.
Guilty Plea The accused (or his/her counsel) make an admission to the court that they have performed the offences that they are charged with having committed.
Habeas Corpus A document that requires a person be brought to a court to determine if he or she is being legally detained' the right to the document as protection against unlawful detention; from the Latin term meaning "You must have the body" i.e. there must be grounds for detention.
Hearsay Evidence Information (evidence) not coming from the direct, personal experience or knowledge of the witness.
Hybrid Offence Can be either a summary or an indictable offence. The Crown often starts out with the offence being indictable and will bargain down to summary.
Incarceration Imprisoned. Being placed in a custody facility.
Indictable Offence A charge that must be proved at trial beyond a reasonable doubt before the offender may be convicted. A more serious offence (eg. Murder, aggravated assault)
Information A formal written complaint-usually completed by a police officer-stating that he has personal knowledge or reasonable cause to believe that a person has committed an offence.
Insufficient Evidence to go to Trial Not enough evidence to proceed to trial.
Judgement The decision or sentence of a court in a legal proceeding.
Judgement Reserved The Judge, after having heard all parties, needs time to consider all the evidence before preparing a final order.
Jurisdiction Means the limits of the authority of the court, whether defined territorially, according to the class or subject of cases to be decided, or according to the type of persons involved.
Justice of the Peace A judicial officer who has the power to make a decision regarding either the release or detention of an accused and to hear other pre-trial matters.
Mens Rea Latin for guilty mind; guilty knowledge or intention to committ a prohibited act.
Motion An application for an order made either in chambers or in open court. It may be oral or written.
Not Guilty (Finding of) After all the evidence is presented by the Crown and Defence, the accused is found not guilty of the charges laid against him/her.
Not Guilty Plea The accused (or his/her counsel) make a statement to the court that they have not committed the offences that they are charged with having completed.
Outstanding Warrant The accused is currently not in custody.
Peace Bond A bond required as part of a court order to guarantee that a person will stay away from another person he/she has threatened or bothered.  The bond will be forfeited (given up) if the order is violated. 
Plea Where the accused states his/her plea of "guilty" or "not guilty" upon being read the offences under the Criminal Code he/she is being accused of committing
Plea Bargain The accused agrees to plead "guilty" (or to give material information or testimony) in exchange for consideration to the charges by the Crown Prosecutor
Predisposition Report A report on the accused's background that will help the judge decide on the disposition of the case before the court.
Preliminary Meeting or Pre-trial meeting A meeting with the Judge, Crown and Defence counsel in attendance to ensure that procedural requirements have been met.
Preliminary Inquiry (may be waived by Defence counsel) A hearing before a Provincial Court Judge to determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.
  • Only held in Indictable Offences where the accused has elected to be tried by Queen's Bench Judge or Judge and Jury.
  • Sufficient evidence: accused "committed to trial"
  • Insufficient evidence: accused is "discharged"
  • Witness attendance is required
Pre-Sentencing Report An account (report) prepared for the court prior to the accused sentencing that sets out his or her background.
Probation A court order under which the accused's behavior is supervised. May have to adhere to certain specified conditions and obligations.
Promise to Appear A release document whereby the accused promises to appear in court on a specified day and time.
Quash To stop a legal proceeding completely because a law, decision or part of a proceeding has been improperly carried out.
Reasons for Judgement Judgment given by a judge after the conclusion of a trial (usually written)
Recidivism Relapse into crime' the return to prison of criminal repeaters.
Recognizance A release document wherein a person undertakes before the court to observe some conditions (appear when summoned, no contact or no go provisions). Money, or something of value, is normally put up as insurance.
Re-elect To go back through the election process.
Restitution The act of making good, restoring (ex. returning something stolen to its rightful owner or compensation in another way); a sentencing objective.
Reverse Onus The responsibility of proving is placed on the defense rather than the Crown (ex. in bail hearing involving serious criminal charge, the accused must show why he or she should be released from custody).
Sentence An order of the court made upon conviction Imprisonment, probation, fine, forfeiture or other punishment imposed by the court on an individual.
Set Date Attendance at court by Crown and Defence to set a date for preliminary hearing or trial.
Stay of Proceedings A stoppage or suspension of a judicial proceeding before judgment has been handed down. The proceeding must be reinstated within a year if the charge is to be pursued. The Crown is dropping the charges unless more evidence comes to light.
Subpoena A court order, commanding a witness to appear at a designated time and date to give evidence. There is a penalty for failing to do so which can include imprisonment.
Substitutional Service Being served a subpoena (or other court document) via any other means than personal service.
Summary Offence A less serious offence than an indictable or hybrid offence.
Surety A person who enters into an agreement with the Crown whereby he pledges a certain amount of his property to ensure than an accused will appear in Court. The amount pledged may be fully or partially lost if the person fails to appear.
Suspended Sentence An individual receiving a suspended sentence is released upon the conditions prescribed in a probation order.
Trial Court proceeding where evidence from both the Crown and Defence concerning the charges is heard to determine guilt or innocence. Witnesses attend this proceeding.
Undertaking A formal promise given to an accused to a justice of the peace that he will appear in court when required.
Verdict The decision of a jury in a proceeding.
Warrant Remanding A legal document retaining the accused in custody.
Warrant for Committal A legal document issued by a court ordering a convicted person to a term of imprisonment for a specified period of time.
Withdrawn Charges Charges are when the Crown Prosecutor applies to the Court to cease actions of a charge or charges against an accused.
YP Sanctions Sanctions and/or alternative measures under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Youth Criminal Justice Act Replaced the Young Offenders Act in April of 2003. Young persons are dealt with by way of extrajudicial measures, extrajudicial sanctions or judicial process.
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