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Understanding Brisbane Criminal Law Terms

"Less serious indictable offences, referred to as summary offences, are usually heard in a Local Court."

The Australian legal system is rife with extremely specialised terminology that most people may have trouble understanding. So when you, or someone close to you has been faced with a criminal charge, it’s important to understand the legal terminology that is likely to come up in legal documents and throughout a trial. Here we’ve provided a list of some of the more confusing terms and definitions often used in the Australian criminal justice system.

 

Acquittal:

This term is used when the magistrate, jury or appeal court find that a person is not guilty of the charges against him/her.

 

Affidavit:

A written declaration made under oath before a notary public or other authorised officer.  The person who has written the declaration states that the contents are, to the best of their knowledge, true.

 

Appeal:

To make an appeal is to take a case to a higher court in order to challenge a decision made by a lower court or tribunal. For example, an appeal from a decision of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia may be made to the Federal Court.  The person who appeals is known as the ‘appellant’. However, it is worth noting that not all decisions can be appealed.

 

Committal Hearing:

This is a hearing of all the evidence that supports the charge in the lower court by a magistrate who decides if there is sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial. In some committal hearings, there may be witnesses who are required to provide evidence.

 

Complainant:

This is the term used in court to refer to the victim of the crime committed.

 

Defendant:

This is the term used in court to refer to the person who is being charged with a criminal offence. This term is interchangeable with ‘the accused’.

 

Deposition:

This is a typed copy of the evidence recorded in court.

 

Exhibits:

All evidence (aside from evidence provided by the witnesses) required to present the case to the court, such as photographs, clothing, documents or any other items that may be relevant to the case.

 

Indictable Offence:

A serious criminal offence that is commonly heard in a higher court before a judge and a jury. Less serious indictable offences, referred to as summary offences, are usually heard in a Local Court.

 

Indictment:

This is a formal written accusation charging a person with an offence that is intended to be tried in a higher court.

 

Jurisdiction:

This is the extent of legal authority/power of the Court to apply the law. For example, in Australia the Federal Court has jurisdiction under more than 150 Acts of the Commonwealth Parliament.

 

Mediation:

This is a process whereby an impartial third party, known as the mediator, assists in bringing about a compromise or agreed settlement without requiring the decision of a Court.

 

Plaintiff:

This is the term used to refer to the person or party who initiates a civil action. In other words, this is the person or party who brings a case against the defendant, and seeks punishment for the person or people who committed the crime.

 

Plea:

This is when the accused person (the defendant) tells the court whether they are guilty or not guilty of the charge against them. If the accused pleads guilty, a trial will not take place and the case proceeds to a sentencing hearing, which determines the punishment for the crime.

 

Subpoena:

A subpoena compels the appearance of a person at a trial in order to testify and/or produce documents. This is a court order, and if it is disobeyed, the disobedient person could be in contempt of court.

 

Voir Dire:

This is a legal argument about the admissibility of a certain piece of evidence in court. In the case that this argument should occur, the witness and the jury are sent out of court until it finishes.

 

If you have any questions regarding a criminal charge in Brisbane, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Here at Guest Lawyers, we specialise in criminal law and would be more than happy to help you with any questions or concerns. Our aim is to deliver honest, respectful and easy to understand legal advice in order to reduce the stress associated with your litigation.