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Legal Mumbo Jumbo – common words and phrases explained


It can often be very confusing sitting in a Court room, hearing lawyers and the Magistrate talk. I’ve had client’s remark that a lot of what we say is almost like another language.

The other thing that can make it confusing, is that everyday words can have a specific meaning when used in a legal context. On top of that, from state to state, processes and terminology differ.

In NSW some common terms and phrases that can help you navigate the Court room include:

“Mention” – usually refers to a first court appearance, or a court appearance which will be quick and uncomplicated.

“Defended hearing” – when you plead not guilty, you will be given a hearing date and this is the Court appearance where all witness have to attend, and ultimately the court makes a decision as to your guilt.

“Trial” – this is like a defended hearing but we call it a trial when it occurs in the District or Supreme Court.

“Sentence hearing” – when you have plead guilty, this is the court appearance when the court will hear submissions on sentence and determine what your sentence will be.

“Contested facts hearing” – this occurs when you have entered a plea of guilty, but do not agree with the facts that the prosecution allege. Witness attend and give evidence like in a defended hearing, but, the only dispute is about the facts (rather than whether you are guilty or not).

“Adjournment” – a formal deferral of your court matter to another date.

“ADVO” – short for, apprehended domestic violence order.

“APVO” – short for, apprehended personal violence order.

“DVLO” – short for, Domestic Violence Liaison Officer.

“Agent/agency” – often for mentions, your lawyer may engage another lawyer to appear on their behalf. They are called an ‘agent’, and are doing an “agency appearance”. This is often more cost effective for clients.

“Amicus” – a lawyer who is appearing for a person to assist them, even though they have not been formally engaged or retained.

“Bail” – a grant of bail is basically conditional liberty. If you are refused bail, you will stay in custody until your matter is finalised.

“Beyond reasonable doubt” – the standard of proof that the prosecution are required to meet in a criminal matter in order for you to be found guilty.

“Prosecutor” – this is a representative, usually from NSW Police, the State Debt Recovery Office, or the RMS (depending on what type of matter it is) who will prosecute the matter.

“Brief of evidence” – this is all material that is to be relied upon in order to try to prosecute you. It can include statements, interviews, CCTV, photos or videos, and forensic evidence.

“CAN” – short for, Court Attendance Notice.

“Complainant” – the person who has made the complaint. This term is preferable than using the word ‘victim’ when someone has not been, or is yet to be, found guilty of an offence.

“Defendant” – the person charged with a criminal offence, or someone who has an ADVO or APVO brought against them.

“DUI” – Driving under the influence of alcohol.

“PCA” – Prescribed concentration of alcohol.

“PINOP” – short for, the person in need of protection. They are the person protected by and AVO.

“Fact Sheet” – a document prepared which sets out the police’s version of events. This is what the Magistrate will read when you are sentenced.

“Witness” – a person who gives evidence at a hearing.

“Representations” – a formal letter written to police for negotiation purposes which might ask them to vary facts or drop charges.

“PSR” – short for, pre-sentence report. This is something that assesses your eligibility for non-custodial sentencing options.

“Elements of an offence” – these are the things required in order for you to be found guilty of a charge.

“Brief orders” – an order of a Court requiring the prosecution to provide the brief of evidence by a particular date.

“Reply date” – this is a Court appearance that happens after the brief of evidence has been provided and on this date you will be expected to tell the court whether you are still pleading not guilty, or whether you are now pleading guilty, after having looked at the evidence.

“ERISP” – short for, electronically recorded interview with suspected person. This is usually an interview with a person who has been charged with an offence.

“DVEC” – short for, domestic violence evidence in chief. This is an interview that is conducted with a complainant in a domestic violence matter that can later be used in evidence.

“My friend” – the way that a lawyer refer to another lawyer or a prosecutor, even if they don’t know them!

Image Credit – Iakov Filimonov © 123RF.com

Written by Angela Cooney on May 21, 2018

Angela is able to assist clients with all criminal offences such as assaults, drug charges, traffic matters, theft, break and enters, firearms, sexual offences and apprehended violence orders. Angela is an experienced Court advocate having appeared in the Local and District Court, the Court of Criminal Appeal as well as in Federal jurisdictions in a multitude of matters, including complex strictly indictable trials. View Angela's profile


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