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Commonly used terms

Sometimes the words used by lawyers and in courts can be confusing and hard to understand. Here is a list of commonly used terms.

Accused: the person alleged in a prosecution notice or indictment to have committed an offence.

Acquittal: where the accused is found not guilty at a trial.

Adjourned: where the matter is postponed to a later date or time for hearing.

Appeal: the process of applying for a court decision to be reconsidered.

Associate: the name given to the person who assists the Judge in court.

Barrister: a lawyer who is qualified to appear in court.

Bench warrant: a written authorisation (arrest warrant) issued by a Judicial Officer for the arrest of a person who fails to appear in Court.

Brief Out: the process whereby the ODPP contracts external counsel to attend a hearing on behalf of the ODPP. Most Brief Out Counsel are self-employed barristers.

Counsel: the word used for the lawyer acting for a person or for the State.

Charges: the crimes alleged to have been committed by the accused.

Committal: the process whereby a case is forwarded from the Magistrates Court to the District or Supreme Courts.

Committal Papers: these papers provide the ODPP with the information that needed to commence the prosecution process. They are the papers the police send to the ODPP and consist of the charges and police and witness statements.

Defence Counsel: the lawyer representing the accused person.

District Court: the court where more serious matters are dealt with before a Judge.

Evidence: information given to the court by witnesses, who are usually asked questions by the prosecutor or by the defence counsel.

Extradition: the process of retrieving an accused (where the accused has left the state) to return to WA to answer the charges.

Fast Track: also known as an expedited committal, occurs when the accused pleads guilty at the earliest opportunity in the Magistrates Court and is committed to the District or Supreme Court for sentence.

Hearing: whenever a matter appears in court it is called a hearing.  It is often used to refer to the final hearing or trial.

Hung Jury: a jury which is unable to reach a verdict. The matter may be retried at another time before another jury.

Indictment: the written charge of an indictable offence presented in the District or Supreme Court which enables the court to deal with the charges in that court.

Indictable Offence: a serious offence that can be dealt with by the Supreme or District Court.

Judicial Officer: the person in charge of the hearing. In the Magistrate’s Court this is usually the Magistrate. In the District and Supreme Courts this is usually the Judge.

Jury: members of the public who have been selected to hear the evidence and decide whether or not the accused is guilty or not guilty of the charges put before the court.

Magistrate’s Court: the court where less serious matters are dealt with, before a Magistrate.

Matter: a case or charges that are brought before the court.

Mistrial: a trial which is aborted by an order of a Judge because of some legal or procedural irregularity. The matter may then need to be re-tried at a later date.

Notice of Discontinuance: the formal document presented to the court by the ODPP that discontinues a prosecution. A notice of discontinuance is not an acquittal of the charges against the accused and the charges may be brought back to the court at a later date.

Oath (or Affirmation): the vow that a witness gives to tell the truth when giving their evidence, either in the context of a religious text such as a bible (oath) or as a statement of  intent to be truthful (affirmation).

PG: an abbreviation meaning that a plea of guilty has been made by the accused in court.

PNG: an abbreviation meaning a plea of not guilty has been made by the accused in court. As a result of a plea of not guilty, the accused exercises his/her right to make the State prove the alleged offence was committed by the accused person.

Pre-recording: the process whereby the evidence of a child or vulnerable witness is recorded before the actual trial. This means the witness is not required to attend the trial to give evidence in the court room.

Prosecution Notice: a formal document setting out the charge(s) against the accused and used to commence a prosecution case in the Magistrates Court. Usually this is issued by the police.

Prosecutor or State Prosecutor: an ODPP lawyer who is allocated to consider the police charges, and proceed with the prosecution.

Remand in custody: an adjournment where the accused is held in custody (in prison).

Reserved decision: may occur in a trial by a Judge alone where the trial has concluded but the Judge does not immediately deliver a decision, instead, takes time to review the evidence and the law and deliver a decision later. It can also apply following the hearing of an Appeal.

Sentence: the penalty imposed by the court for an offence.

Statement of Material Facts: this is the description of the crime as recorded by police.

Status Hearing: an appearance in a higher court (Supreme or District Court) to determine the progress of a matter in preparation for the trial.

Subpoena: a document issued by a Court requiring certain documents or things to be provided to the Court.

Summons: a court document advising a witness of the time, date and location of a trial and requiring the witness to attend and give evidence.

Supreme Court: the court where the most serious criminal matters are dealt with such as murder and armed robbery, before a Judge

Trial: a court hearing where factual and legal issues are examined before a judge and jury (or in some cases before a Judge alone) to determine whether the accused is guilty or not guilty of the charges brought before the court.

Usher: the name given to the person who calls witnesses into the court to give evidence.

Verdict: the outcome of the deliberations by the jury (or the Judge if there is no jury), for each of the charges.  Usually “guilty” or “not guilty”.

Witness: a person who is summonsed to appear in court to give evidence for the prosecution or for the defence.

Last updated: 23-Jan-2013

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