1  Any word or phrase shown in bold italic type is defined elsewhere in the glossary

2  Some words have an ordinary meaning as well as the specific legal meaning given here.

Legal words

Lawyers often use technical terms. This guide to common legal words will make it easier for you to understand the law and Victoria’s legal system. It will help you understand the legal information you need to read when you have a legal issue or problem.


abate   To reduce, remove or minimise harm to a property, or stop something that prevents the owner of renter using the property fully. To abate a nuisance is to remove or reduce it without violence or unnecessary damage. Abatement is a self-help alternative to bringing a court action.

abduction   Stealing someone away from their home, usually a child.

abrogate   To abolish or cancel something, such as a law, so that it is no longer in force.

absolute privilege   The protection given to parliamentary and court proceedings so that any information produced or revealed in them cannot be used as the basis for a defamation lawsuit. See also defence; qualified privilege.

abuse of process   Using a legal right or process in a way that is unfair or improper. For example, starting a court procedure out of malice when the claim has no good legal basis, or causing delay on purpose, to get some advantage over the other party.

accused   A person who has been charged with a crime. Also known as a defendant.

acquit   To find someone ‘not guilty’ on a charge in a criminal case.

act of bankruptcy   An action of a debtor that shows they cannot pay what they owe to their creditors.

act of God   A natural event such as a cyclone that no-one could see coming or prevent.

Act   A written law made by parliament. Also called an ‘Act of parliament’, ‘statute’ or legislation.

actus reus   Actions or omissions that must be proved before a court can find someone guilty of a criminal offence. The acts are different for different offences. For example, armed robbery includes the act of using or pretending to use a weapon. See also mens rea.

adduce   To present evidence to a court. This may be done by showing something to the court, such as a document or an object, or by asking a witness questions.

adjourn   To postpone a court case, to move the hearing to another time or another day. Also referred to as ‘standing over’, as in ‘standing the matter over’ or ‘standing down’. If a case is adjourned indefinitely it can only be brought back if one of the parties applies to the court. This was formerly called adjournment sine die.

adjournment without conviction   In a criminal case, a sentencing order which includes a good behaviour bond. A conviction does not go on the defendant’s record if they keep the promises they made in the bond. Also known as a deferred sentence or suspended sentence.

administrative act   A decision or action by a government department or agency. Government departments are given power by Acts of parliament, and they can only do what is allowed by the Act. If they do things they do not have power to do, their actions can be challenged in a court or tribunal. See also fiat; ultra vires.

administrative law   Rules that govern the decisions of public officials, covering their powers and functions and the procedures they have to follow.

administrator   (1) (wills) Someone who takes legal responsibility for the possessions of a person who has died without making a will, or who is still alive but cannot manage their own possessions. For example, an administrator may be appointed to manage the money, house or other possessions of a person who has a severe mental disability. (2) (companies) A manager appointed by the directors of a company that is in financial difficulty. This may give creditors a better chance of getting their money back because the company can keep trading under supervised management instead of being wound up.

ADR (alternative dispute resolution)   A way of resolving a dispute outside the court system. There are different kinds of alternative dispute resolution, including arbitration, negotiation and mediation.

adversary system   The system used to decide court cases in Australia. In this system, barristers for each opposing party question witnesses and present arguments and evidence to the judge, who then decides between them and makes orders about what is to happen. Also called the adversarial system. Compare an inquisitorial legal system. See also barrister; court.

affidavit   A document that presents written evidence in a court case, setting out what a witness says is true. The witness must swear that it is true and correct in front of an authorised official. This can be done on oath or by affirmation. The person in whose name the document is sworn is called the deponent.

affirmation   A formal promise to the court that a statement made by a witness, in court or in an affidavit, is true. An alternative to a religious oath.

age of consent   The age when a young person can legally have sex. In Victoria this is 16.

agent   A person who acts for someone else. They can make decisions, carry out tasks or make agreements for the other person. For example, if you ask someone to bid for you at an auction they will be acting as your agent.

aggravated damages   Money ordered by a court as extra compensation, more than normal compensatory damages. A court can make this order when a party caused damage by some wrongful act, but made it even worse by adding to the mental distress of the other party. See also damages.

aggravating factors   Circumstances that make an offence much more serious. For example, using a gun in a robbery is an aggravating factor, making the offence worse than robbery without a gun.

aiding and abetting   Helping someone carry out a criminal offence. For example, a person can aid and abet an arsonist by buying petrol for them, knowing they plan to burn down a building.

alibi   An answer to a criminal charge which says the accused was somewhere else when a crime was committed, not at the scene of the crime.

alleged   Claimed but not proved. For example, the police can allege in court that a car was stolen, but they then have to prove it with evidence. If you say a person did something illegal you are making an allegation. Unless you can back it up, you will not be able to win a court case about it.

amendment   A change made to a legal document or Act of parliament.

amenity   The pleasantness, benefits and enjoyableness of an environment. While individual features such as a toilet block are called ‘amenities’, amenity in planning law is a quality, not a location or a thing. For example, building a toilet block will add to the number of public amenities in the area, but it may also decrease the amenity of the near neighbours.

amicus curiae   A person who is not a party to a dispute but appears in a case to help the court, either to advise the court independently (without representing a party) or to help a party pro bono (without charging them) by, for example, explaining complicated laws to them in a balanced way. Also known as a ‘friend of the court’.

annuity   A payment or other benefit that is received once a year.

annul   To cancel the legal effect of something, as if it never happened; to make it void. For example, a court can annul a marriage, which means it was never valid, in contrast to making a divorce order, which means a valid marriage is ended.

antecedent   Prior. Something that happened before.

appeal   The review of the decision of a lower court by a higher court. If an appeal is successful, the higher court can change the lower court’s decision.

appellant   A person who appeals a decision of a court or tribunal to a higher court.

arbitration   A form of alternative dispute resolution where the parties appoint an independent person (an arbitrator) to sort out their dispute. Arbitration is often the method choose to solve commercial construction and shipping disputes. It is less formal than a court hearing. An arbitrator’s decision is final and generally cannot be appealed.

arrears   Money owed that is due on a certain date and is late being paid (overdue).

arrest   To seize a person suspected of breaking the law and hold them in custody. Police have powers to arrest and charge suspected offenders and bring them before a court.

assessable income   The total of a person’s annual pay and other earnings hat is used to calculate the income tax they must pay.

assignment   Legal transfer of some right to use property. For example, putting a lease over farmland into another person’s name, or giving another person copyright in a song you have written.

asylum   Refuge or protection from persecution, usually in another country. Historically, also a place for the detention and treatment of the mentally ill.

at large   Having escaped from control, for example, person who has committed a serious offence and has not yet been captured, or who has escaped from legal custody. Animals at large have escaped from secure confinement on their owner’s property.

attachment of earnings   A court order that tells an employer to hold money back from an employee’s wages and pay it to a creditor. A share of the debtor’s wages go to the creditor every payday until the debt is paid off.

attestation clause   Words in a document that say a witness was there when the document was signed, and that they saw another person sign that document. The witness signs their name next to the attestation clause.

award   (1) A standard set of working conditions, including pay rates, for a particular industry. (2) A court decision that a party receive compensation, such as an award of damages to compensate them for physical injuries.


bail bond   A form signed by a person released on bail. It sets out the promises the person has made to the court so they can be released from police control or prison. See also undertaking; surety.

bail justice   An official, usually based at a police station, who is not a judge or magistrate but has the same power as judges and magistrates to grant or refuse bail to an accused person.

bail   The procedure that allows a person who has been charged with an offence to be released from police control or prison until the hearing of the case. Courts can add conditions to bail. For example, they can require that people released on bail promise to come to the court on a set date, or put up an amount of money that they cannot get back if they do not appear as they promised. See also undertaking.

bailment   Looking after another person’s goods. The person looking after the goods must return them in good condition, as agreed. For example, when you give your watch to a jeweller for repairs, they must look after it until the repairs are done and paid for. Bailment has nothing to do with bail in criminal cases.

balance of probabilities   More likely than not. The plaintiff in a civil case (a non-criminal case) must prove that what they are arguing is more likely to be true than false. This is called the standard of proof. See also beyond reasonable doubt.

bankruptcy petition   A formal action by either a debtor or a creditor to file for bankruptcy of the debtor.

bankruptcy   When a debtor who cannot pay their debts has their money and property taken over and managed by a trustee who uses it to pay back creditors. The debtor is then called a bankrupt.

barrister   A lawyer who specialises in giving advice in difficult cases and representing clients in court.

beneficiary   (1) Someone whose money or property is being looked after for them by someone else (called a trustee). (2) A person who is left something in a will, also sometimes called a legatee. See also trust.

bequeath   To leave money or other property to someone in a will. For example, a grandmother might bequeath her engagement ring to her granddaughter.

beyond reasonable doubt   The level of proof (or standard of proof) required in criminal trials. If there is any reasonable doubt about the case made by the prosecution, the offence has not been proved, and the defendant will be found not guilty.

bias   A pre-existing attitude or opinion that favours one side over another in a dispute, so that the judge or other decision-maker is not open to being persuaded.

bona fide   Honest and genuine.

bond   (1) An undertaking by someone to do or not do something, especially a good behaviour bond, which can be part of a sentence given by a court. (2) A tenant’s payment of money to a landlord at the start of a tenancy. The bond is held in case there is any damage to the property or the tenant fails to pay rent.

breach of contract   Failing to do what was agreed in a contract.

burden of proof   The obligation on one legal party to prove their case in court. In a criminal trial, this obligation is on the prosecution. The standard of proof is beyond reasonable doubt. In a civil trial, the plaintiff has the burden of proof, and they must prove their claim on the balance of probabilities. The burden of proof is also called the onus of proof.

business purpose declaration   A document signed by a debtor before entering a loan contract, stating that the credit is for business, not domestic, purposes.

by-laws   Former name of local laws.


capacity   The ability to understand and be held responsible by the law for your actions. It also refers to a person’s ability to understand and agree to something, such as to undergo medical treatment. Full legal capacity is reached at 18 years of age, when a child becomes an adult.

case law   Law based on the reasons judges have given for their decisions in court cases, and which judges in later, similar cases are bound to follow. Under the doctrine of precedent, lower courts, such as the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, are bound to follow relevant decisions of higher courts, such as the Supreme Court of Victoria. Case law is also called ‘common law’ and ‘judge-made law’.

caveat emptor   ‘Let the buyer beware’. In the past, buyers who purchased goods could not easily get a refund if there was something wrong with the goods. These days buyers can get refunds or exchanges much more easily because consumer protection laws say goods must be of reasonable quality, work properly and do what they are supposed to do.

caveat   (1) A warning or notice – for example, to a buyer to thoroughly check a product before buying it (see caveat emptor). (2) A notice filed with Land Victoria warning anyone who searches the land title that someone claims ownership or some other right in the land.

CBO (community-based order)   A sentencing order made as an alternative to imprisonment. It requires an offender to undertake unpaid or educational work in the community for a set number of hours under the supervision of the Office of Corrections.

certificate of title   A document created by Land Victoria that gives details of where a piece of land is, who owns it, any mortgage on it, and other restrictions on the title. Certificates of title are official copies made from registers kept for all land in the state. See also transfer of land. See also encumbrance.

certiorari   An order made by a higher court, such as the Supreme Court of Victoria, that cancels the legal effect of a decision that was incorrectly made by a lower court, public official or authority, or one they had no power to make. Now termed ‘an order in the nature of certiorari’. See also jurisdiction; prerogative writ.

character witness   A person who appears in court to give a reference for an accused person. See also witness.

charge   (1) A statement giving the details of a crime an accused person is claimed to have committed. (2) A personal property security. (3) A judge’s directions to a jury at the end of a case.

chattel   Anything that can be owned as personal property. It may be a leasehold, called a chattel real, or a movable article of property, such as jewellery, called a chattel personal. See also real property; personal property security.

child maintenance order   A parenting order that sets out arrangements for the financial support of a child, including making regular payments to the other parent to help with the costs of bringing up the child.

citizen’s arrest   An arrest by any person who is not a police officer or who does not have a warrant to arrest. A person who sees a serious crime taking place can stop the offender committing the crime and keep them under control until the police get there. The rule is based on old case law.

civil action   A court case in which one person or organisation sues another for compensation, or for some other court order. This is different from a criminal case, where the police bring criminal charges and the court may give the defendant a penalty, such as time in prison, if they are found guilty. Also called a lawsuit, a civil claim, a civil matter or a proceeding.

civil law   Non-criminal law. The area of law that covers disputes between organisations, companies or individuals, such as the law relating to contracts. Civil law is not criminal law or church law. It can include actions against the state. In discussions about the law in different countries, civil law means law based on the Roman law system, as opposed to our common law system.

clear title   Outright ownership of property, without any debts or charges.

clearout   When a debtor moves away from where they live and does not tell their creditors what their new address is.

code of practice   Guidelines setting out proper practice in an industry or occupation. For example, the franchising code of practice sets out rules for businesses operating under a franchise. Codes can be voluntary or statutory (required by legislation).

codicil   A document made by a will-maker to change their existing will.

cohabitation   Living together as a couple sharing an emotional and sexual relationship. Also, where a group of people live together on a long-term basis, as members of a family do.

collateral contract   A separate contract that exists alongside the main contract.

combined custody and treatment order   A sentence that is served partly in prison and partly in the community so the person convicted of an offence can have supervised alcohol or drug treatment.

committal proceedings   A hearing in a Magistrates’ Court that decides whether someone charged with a serious criminal offence should face trial in a higher court. Also known as a preliminary examination. See also indictable offence.

common law defence   An answer to a criminal charge or other wrongdoing, based on a precedent that has developed from decisions in court cases, rather than being set out in legislation (a statutory defence).

common law   (1) The system of law developed by the English courts through precedent and adopted in ‘common law countries’ in the British Commonwealth (as opposed to Roman law (civil law) or ecclesiastical law). (2) The case law made by judges in that system. (3) Case law that is not part of the law of equity. (4) Historically, the rules of law common to all people in England, as distinct from local or customary laws.

community treatment order   An order that authorises medical treatment for a patient who has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital without their consent. The treatment takes place in the community.

Community Visitor   An independent person, a volunteer, who monitors and reports on the quality of mental health services and the welfare of patients.

community-based order   A sentencing order that can be made by a court instead of ordering a prison term. The person sentenced must do unpaid or educational work in the community, supervised by the Office of Corrections.

compensation order   An order requiring that someone found guilty of an offence pay for damage to property caused by the offence. The payment is made to the affected person or business.

compensatory damages   Payment of money to a successful party, ordered by a court in a civil case; the ordinary damages that make up for the harm that resulted from the actions of the losing party. For example, if a defamation claim is successful, damages must be paid by the defendant to compensate the person whose reputation they have harmed. See also aggravated damages.

complainant   A person who begins a criminal prosecution against another in the Magistrates’ Court, or formally starts an action in a court or tribunal or makes a complaint to a complaint-handling body. In a civil action they could also be referred to as a plaintiff or an applicant.

comprehensive insurance   Car insurance that covers a person for claims against them for damage they do to other people’s property, and also for damage to their own property.

conciliation   A form of alternative dispute resolution. The parties negotiate with the help of an independent person called a conciliator. The aim is to sort out the dispute by mutual agreement, rather than having a decision made by a court or tribunal. See also arbitration; mediation; negotiation.

concurrent sentence   A prison term that is served at the same time as another sentence. Because the sentences are not served one after the other, there is no extra time in jail for any sentences after the first one. See also cumulative sentence.

condition precedent   A condition that delays the coming into effect of a right, usually under a contract (q.v.), until that condition is fulfilled.

conduct money   Money covering the cost of travel to court. A party who requires a witness to appear in court must pay for them to get there.

confidential relationship   A relationship where one person trusts and relies up another person.

confidentiality   The principle that private information told to a person must not be revealed to others. Some professionals must keep information confidential, for example doctor–patient and lawyer–client relationships.

conflict of interest   A situation where someone’s personal interests or their duties to another person could affect the way they carry out their duties. If there is a conflict of interest in performing up a role, the person generally should not accept that role. For example, a lawyer should not agree to represent the buyer as well as the seller in a sale of land.

consent   To agree to something being done, to approve an action or arrangement. See also informed consent.

consideration   Something of value, such as money, given by one person to another person as part of a contract.

consumer lease   A contract to hire goods for a particular period and to make the agreed payments during that time.

consumer   Under the Australian Consumer Law, a person who buys goods or services for less than $40,000 or for personal or home use.

contact order   A parenting order made by a court, stating how often someone (a parent, or another adult) can see a child who doesn’t live with them.

contempt of court   Disobeying a court order or doing something that shows disrespect for the authority of the court or a judge.

contest mention hearing   A preliminary hearing in which parties can try to reach agreement on some matters before a full hearing is held.

contract   An agreement that the law will enforce.

contravene   To break a legal rule or fail to carry out a legal obligation such as a court order.

contributory negligence   A defence to a claim in an action for damages for injuries caused by a defendant’s negligence. The defendant attempts to prove that the plaintiff’s own negligence caused or contributed to the injuries suffered.

conveyance   A document used to transfer real property from one person to another. Similar to a transfer of land registered with Land Victoria, but applicable only to the tiny percentage of old system title land that is not under the Torrens title system. See also certificate of title.

convict   At the end of a criminal trial, to find the accused guilty of a crime.

cooling-off period   The time allowed for a purchaser to change their mind and legally withdraw from a contract after signing it. A contract to buy a house or a car in Victoria will often have a cooling-off period of three business days (excluding weekends and public holidays) after signing the contract.

copyright   Property rights over creative works, such as books, music, art, sound recordings, films or broadcasts. Generally only the copyright owner, or someone who has their permission, can reproduce, publish, copy, perform or broadcast the works.

corporal punishment   Any physical punishment, but generally meaning something that causes pain, such as hitting.

corroboration   Independent evidence that confirms or supports evidence given by another witness in court.

costs   The amount charged by a lawyer for legal work. Lawyers can only charge the amount agreed with the client in a costs agreement or the amount stated by a court in its rules. The party who loses a case usually has to pay all their own costs plus most of the costs reasonably incurred by the other side. See also indemnity costs.

counsel   A lawyer who appears in court and speaks on behalf of their client, often a barrister.

counterclaim   A formal statement added to a defence, claiming something in return, instead of suing the other party in a separate court action. For example, if a plaintiff sues a defendant for damage the defendant’s dog caused in his garden, the defendant might make a counterclaim that the plaintiff damaged the fence that would have kept the dog in, and the defendant had to spend money on repairs. The court can then balance the claims, defences and damage, and make an order that takes everything into account.

court   An independent body that hears legal claims brought by parties and decides between them. Serious cases are heard by a judge and jury, or just a judge. Less-serious cases are heard by a magistrate.

covenant   A formal, written agreement that creates a legal obligation, in a deed or on a certificate of title. For example, a property developer might add a covenant to every block of land in a subdivision to stop anyone building a house there unless it is made of brick.

cover note   A document given by an insurer to a client as evidence that temporary insurance is in place while the formal policy document is being prepared.

credibility   How believable a witness is in court when they claim to be telling the truth. See also independent witness; interested witness.

credit charges   The fees and interest a consumer will have to pay if they enter into a credit contract, in addition to repayment of the sum borrowed and any interest payable. Includes collection costs, penalty interest and any other amount beyond the sum borrowed.

credit contract   A contract relating to the giving of credit.

credit   A debt that does not have to be paid until some future time. Being allowed to pay later, in the future, for something you are getting now.

creditor   The person or organisation to whom a debtor owes a debt.

cross-examination   An opposing party’s questioning of a witness in a court case. Questioning of your own side’s witness is called examination in chief.

cross-vesting   The process by which a superior court can exercise the jurisdiction of another, for example between state supreme courts and federal courts.

Crown   (1) A common term for the legal power and authority of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. (2) Another name for the prosecution in a criminal trial.

CTO (community treatment order)   Treatment of an involuntary patient by a medical practitioner in the community, not in a mental hospital.

cumulative sentence   Two or more terms of imprisonment that are served one after the other, not at the same time. See also concurrent sentence.

custodial sentence   A prison sentence.

custody   Lawful control over a person which prevents them leaving. A person under arrest is in police custody and is not free to go. A person in prison is serving a custodial sentence that keeps them confined to the prison grounds.


damages   A court order for money to be paid to someone to compensate them for a loss suffered as a result of a civil wrong or breach of contract. For example, a person who caused a serious permanent injury to another person can be ordered by the court to pay damages that compensate the injured person for their loss of income from being unable to work. See also aggravated damages; compensatory damages; general damages; liquidated damages; nominal damages; special damages.

de facto   In fact, rather than in law. Commonly used to refer to two people living together as a married couple but who are not legally married. They are sometimes said to be in a ‘de facto’ marriage or relationship. See also domestic relationship.

debt agreement   An arrangement between a debtor and a creditor for the repayment of an unpaid debt, often by instalments. Generally negotiated because the debtor has been unable to pay the debt as originally agreed.

debt   Money that is owed by one person or business to another.

debtor   A person who owes a debt.

declaratory order   A court’s judgment about the meaning of a point of law in a case. A declaratory order just states the law. It does not itself include a remedy such as damages or an injunction. See also damages; injunction.

decree absolute   The final order in divorce proceedings, made by the Federal Circuit Court. The order states that the marriage has been terminated. Both parties are now free to remarry. See also decree nisi; decree of nullity; marriage.

decree nisi   An order that a marriage is to be terminated in one month. Neither party can remarry until the order is finalised (when a decree absolute will be issued).

decree of dissolution of marriage   Divorce. See decree nisi; decree absolute.

decree of nullity   A court order stating that a marriage is not legally valid.

decree   (1) A command given by a public authority. For example, a health authority might decree that animals with a contagious disease be quarantined. (2) A court order.

deed   A formal legal document that is used for specific purposes, such as trusts, some types of ownership of land, and agreements where no money is going to be paid. Deeds must clearly state that they are a deed, and they usually include the words ‘signed, sealed and delivered’. They are also called ‘contracts under seal’, although attaching a seal with wax is no longer necessary.

deemed   Treated by the law as if something is the case, even if that is not the reality. For example, children may be deemed to have the same home as their parents, whether they actually live there or not. Or a person may be deemed to have given their consent to something if they hear about it and do not object. Compare rebuttable.

defamation   To damage another person’s reputation by publishing or communicating false statements about them. The old common law distinction between libel (written and published defamation) and slander (spoken defamation) no longer has any legal significance.

default   Failure to do something that is legally required. For example, a person who fails to make a payment on their car is in default on the loan; if they continue to be in default the creditor may issue a default summons to take the debtor to court.

defence   (1) A defendant’s response to the legal claims made against them in court by a prosecutor or plaintiff. (2) A lawful excuse for conduct: for example, causing minor injuries to someone while saving them from certain death. (3) ‘The defence’ is also a way of referring to the defendant and their legal team.

defendant   A person who has been charged with a criminal offence or against whom a civil action has been brought.

deferred sentence   An adjournment without conviction.

delegated legislation   Laws made by bodies subordinate to parliament. These laws may be regulations or rules, local laws or Orders-in-Council.

delegation   The transfer of responsibilities from a higher authority to a lower one. For example, a government minister may have power to hand their decision-making responsibility for visa applications to a public servant. Whenever there is a delegation, the higher official continues to have the authority to make the decision.

deponent   A person who swears or affirms an affidavit.

deportation   Expelling a non-citizen from a country because they do not have a legal right to remain there. They might have been convicted of a serious crime, or be regarded as a threat to national security.

deposition   A written record of the evidence given on oath at committal proceedings. Depositions may be used if the witness cannot give evidence when the trial takes place.

determination   A finalisation, especially a decision made by a court or tribunal to finalise (determine) a case.

dictation   Improper direction by one person (or body) to another, so that the person who is supposed to make a decision is not absolutely free of outside influence when they make it.

direction   A legally proper instruction by one person (or body) to another, so that the person is bound to take action, or make a decision, as instructed. Compare dictation.

directions hearing   A short hearing between the judge and the lawyers in a case to decide how the case will be run until the hearing starts. For example, information can be given about the legal points the parties disagree about and the evidence that can be admitted.

disbursement   Money paid by one person on behalf of another person. For example, a lawyer pays the cost of lodging documents on behalf of their client. Also called ‘out-of- pocket’ expenses.

discharge   (1) To fulfil an obligation or be released from an obligation. For example, a debtor can discharge a debt by paying it; a prisoner can be discharged (released) from jail.

disclosure   Providing information to another person or institution as required by a contract or other legal process.

discoverable date   The first date that a person knew, or should have known, that someone was injured, that the defendant caused it and that the injury was serious enough for compensation (damages) to be ordered.

discovery   Compulsory sharing of facts and documents between parties before a case is heard in court.

discretion   Power to choose whether to do something or not. For example, a judge may have discretion to allow a party extra time to complete a document if it would be unfair to enforce the legal time limit.

distrain   To seize the property of a debtor to enforce the payment of the debt. Requires a court order, and is done by the Sheriff, not by the creditor.

divisible property   Property belonging to a bankrupt that can be used to pay off debts. Some property such as tools or trade, ordinary household furniture and a low-value car are excluded from the property that can be taken and sold. See also bankruptcy.

divorce   The legal ending of a marriage by court order. A marriage is legally divorced when a court issues a decree absolute where there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. See also decree nisi.

doctrine of precedent   See precedent.

doctrine   A framework, set of rules, procedural steps, or test, often established through precedent in the common law, through which judgments can be determined in a given legal case.

domestic relationship   A relationship where people live together as a couple or a family. This describes people’s living arrangements, not their marital status. A domestic relationship can be registered in Victoria.

domicile   A person’s permanent home according to the law. The home base where they belong. It is not necessarily the same as ‘residency’, which is where someone is presently living. It is particularly relevant to family law and taxation law.

double jeopardy   The principle that no-one should be placed at risk – ‘in jeopardy’ – of being convicted of a criminal offence for which they have already been punished. For example, in most circumstances if you have been on trial and found not guilty you cannot be put on trial for the same offence again even if there is new evidence.

duplicity   (1) Deceit. (2) In a pleading in a civil action, ‘double-pleading’ or including two (or more) matters in one plea; in criminal matters, charging a person with more than one offence on the basis of one set of circumstances.

duress   Forcing someone to do something they do not want to do. An agreement signed under duress will be invalid.

duty lawyer   A lawyer who provides free assistance at court to a person who has been charged with a criminal offence and has not yet had any legal advice.

duty of care   An obligation to take reasonable care to avoid harming other people or their property. Breach of a duty of care that causes damage or loss to another may give rise to an action in tort.


easement   A legal right over another person’s land. Easements are usually listed on a property’s title. For example, a right of way to walk or drive across a property to get to another place is an easement.

ejectment   An action by an owner to get their land back, sometimes involving evicting a tenant or a squatter from the property.

encumbrance   A legal restriction, such as a mortgage, that prevents the owner from freely dealing with real estate or other property.

endorse   To support or approve something; to write on and sign a document to indicate its authenticity or ownership, or to indicate willingness to be bound by it.

enduring power   Written authority given to a person to make decisions on behalf of another person. The authority remains valid even when that person is no longer mentally competent. The power can be restricted to personal or financial matters. See also power of attorney; supportive attorney.

enforce   To make people obey a law or the terms of an agreement, using police powers or court orders.

entrapment   Action, by a law enforcement officer, that tricks or encourages someone to commit an offence that they would not otherwise have committed.

EPA   Environment Protection Authority Victoria.

equitable estoppel   See estoppel.

equity   (1) Fairness and justice. (2) A right to property that the court will recognise even though it does not amount to full legal ownership. (3) A set of legal rules that aims to reduce any harshness that would result from strict application of the law.

estate   All the property a person has, including real property and personal property. It is often used to describe property belonging to someone who has died, or the property of a bankrupt.

estoppel   (1) In general, not being permitted (being stopped) from making a particular argument or claim in court. (2) Equitable estoppel: stopping someone going back on what they did or said they would do, when what they said has been relied on by another person who would be disadvantaged if the situation changed.

eviction   The lawful removal of a tenant from a property. If a tenant who has been lawfully told to leave refuses to leave, the owner can take possession back by asking a court to issue an order. The order can then be enforced by the Sheriff’s Office.

evidence   Material presented to a court to prove or disprove a fact. It can include what witnesses say as well as documents and other objects.

ex gratia   Done as a favour, without any legal obligation to do so.

ex parte   An application to a court made by one party only, where the other party is not present or does not yet know about the court action.

examination in chief   An party’s questioning of their own witness in a court case. Questioning of the other side’s witness is called cross-examination.

excess   The amount a person does not get back from the insurer when they make a claim on their insurance. For example, if a car is insured for an agreed value of $10,000 with an excess of $1000, the insurer will pay only $9000 on a claim if the car is written off.

exclusion clause   A term in a contract which tries to exclude rights or avoid liabilities. It is also sometimes called a ‘limitation clause’. Many of these clauses are void, especially in consumer contracts.

executor   The person named in a will as the one who must ensure that the deceased person’s intentions, as stated in the will, are carried out.

exemplary damages   A court order that a wrongdoer pay the victim a larger amount of damages than would be needed just to compensate them for their loss. Its purpose is to punish the wrongdoer and make an example of them. See also general damages; special damages.

exhibit   A document or thing that is provided as evidence in a court case or referred to in a sworn statement. For example, a gun might be produced as an exhibit in a criminal case, and a bank statement might be produced in a civil case.

ex-nuptial   Out of marriage; illegitimate. Used to describe a child born of the couple.

express warranty   A verbal or written promise made about a product when it is offered for sale, which would naturally encourage people to buy the goods (e.g. a sales person saying a toaster will last for six years). Breach of an express warranty can give rise to a right to sue for damages.

expulsion   The deportation of a non-citizen from a country, or the permanent removal of a person from an organisation or place, especially the expulsion of a student from school. Compare suspension.

extradition   The process of allowing an accused person in one country to be taken into custody and sent for trial in another country where it is alleged they committed an offence. When a person is to be extradited, police in the country of residence take them into custody and hand them over to law enforcement officers from the country where the offence was committed.


fair dealing   Legitimate use or reproduction of copyright material by someone other than the copyright owner, for specific purposes (parody or satire, study or research, criticism or review, or reporting the news). Not to be confused with the US ‘fair use’ which does not apply in Australia (allowing any copyright material to be used without the copyright owner’s consent if the use is ‘fair’).

false imprisonment   Without lawful authority, keeping someone locked up or confined, preventing them leaving against their will. A common law action challenging the legality of someone’s imprisonment seeks a writ of habeas corpus (Latin for ‘have the body’, meaning ‘bring the person before the court’).

family violence intervention order   A court order made to protect a family member from violence, intimidation or harassment by restraining a person from harmful or annoying conduct towards that family member. See also intervention order.

fiat   An official authorisation to do something, issued in the name of a government official. An example is an Attorney-General’s fiat to allow a person to bring proceedings in a court when they would not normally have the right to do so.

fiduciary duty   An obligation to act honestly and for the benefit of another person. The duty only applies to certain relationships where a fiduciary relationship exists; for example, a solicitor owes a fiduciary duty to their client and a trustee owes a fiduciary duty to their beneficiaries.

forensic patient or resident   A person detained in a mental hospital or institution after being found unfit to stand trial, or found not guilty because of mental illness or intellectual disability.

forensic procedure   A method of collecting evidence, such as taking fingerprints or getting a DNA sample, from a person suspected of committing an offence, or by examining a crime scene and collecting samples. Samples may also be taken in a civil action to prove or disprove a paternity claim.

franchise   A business arrangement where a person who has worked out a successful business model sets up a chain of businesses and sells licences to others to operate using the same model and branding. A common example is a fast-food chain.

fraud   An intentionally dishonest act, or lack of action, done to deceive someone and bring some advantage over those who have been deceived.

freedom of association   The right to join or choose to be identified with some group with a common interest, for example, a union or a a religion. Equally, the right not to belong.

freedom of information   The right of any person to access documents held by government agencies, except documents excluded by legislation.


gazumping   The practice of making a higher offer on a property after the vendor has agreed on a purchase price with another buyer, and having the higher price accepted. The first buyer has then been gazumped, and loses the deal.

general damages   Part of the money a court orders a defendant to pay as compensation. General damages cover losses that cannot be calculated exactly, such as money for pain and suffering, disfigurement or loss of earning capacity or enjoyment of life. See also exemplary damages; special damages.

grievance procedure   The steps that need to be followed by someone with a complaint against an organisation, for example an employer, government department or agency.

guarantee   A binding promise made as reassurance that another person will carry out their legal obligations (e.g. paying a debt). The person making the promise is called a guarantor. If the person being guaranteed fails to pay, the guarantor becomes responsible for the debt.

guardian   Someone who is legally responsible for taking care of another person or their property.


habeas corpus   See false imprisonment.

hand-up brief   A collection of documents that the prosecution must give to the accused person in a criminal case and also provide to the court. The brief must contain all the charges and a summary of evidence that will be used against the accused. See also service.

hearing   The time and place at which a court or tribunal hears the parties argue their case and makes a decision.

hearsay evidence   Statements about something that has not been seen or heard by the witness, but has been told to them by another person. Hearsay evidence is usually not allowed in court.

hire purchase   A contract that requires a buyer to purchase goods by making instalment payments. The buyer only owns the goods after they have made the final instalment payment.

hire   (1) An agreement to pay for the temporary use of something, for example a car. Also called renting or leasing. (2) To employ someone to do work.

hospital order    In a criminal case, a sentence imposed by the court that a person be admitted to a mental hospital as an involuntary patient. Also, known as a hospital security order.


ICO (intensive correction order)   A non-custodial sentence with very strict conditions attached.

identification material   Evidence collected by police to help identify a person suspected of committing an offence. This may include fingerprints, voice recordings, handwriting samples or photographs.

identification parade   A police line-up. A group of people that includes a suspect and several other people who look similar but have nothing to do with the case. A witness who saw an offence being committed is asked to say whether anyone in the line is the offender. If they pick the suspected person, it can be used as evidence in court.

implied terms   (1) Unwritten promises that a court considers are part of an agreement because it is clear that the parties meant to include them. (2) Terms that, under legislation such as consumer protection laws, are automatically part of some agreements. For example, under legislation all goods sold in Victoria must be of merchantable quality.

implied warranty   A promise that goods and services will be of reasonable quality. This does not need to be written into the contract as it automatically applies to all goods and services sold in Victoria.

in lieu   Instead of. So, time in lieu is time off instead of payment for overtime worked.

in loco parentis   Someone who is acting in the position of a parent and has authority over a child. For example, a school teacher in charge of children on a school bus trip has the right to give them reasonable instructions.

inadmissible   Something that is not allowed as evidence in a court hearing. For example, the fact that someone has been convicted of theft in the past is inadmissible to show that they stole something this time.

incorporated associations   A not-for-profit community organisation, such as a club, with a separate legal identity and a structure regulated by legislation.

incorporated documents   Additional papers that are included in a contract or other legal document, such as a planning scheme, by being specifically referred to and stated to form part of the main document.

indemnity costs   Lawyers’ fees paid in full by the party who loses a court case. See also costs.

indemnity   A promise to pay compensation to cover losses or expenses that may arise in the future if some stated event occurs. For example, if a business partnership ends and one partner continues to run the business, they generally agree to indemnify the others against any claims against the business in the future. Insurance contracts also indemnify the insured against stated risks.

Independent Third Person (ITP)   A person, other than a friend or family member, who provides support to a person with an intellectual disability, brain injury or mental illness when they are being questioned by the police.

independent witness   (1) An independent person who sits with a child being questioned by police when their parent or guardian cannot be present. The independent witness ensures that the child is treated with care and understands what is happening. (2) In any legal proceeding, a person who can give evidence of matters before the court but has no particular interest in the outcome. (3) A person who has no interest in the contents of a document such as a will, but watches it being signed, and puts their own name on it as evidence that they saw the signing occur. Compare interested witness.

indictable charge   An accusation against a person who is suspected of a serious crime (an indictable offence). Being charged means the accused person must go before a court to have the offence tried.

indictable offence   A serious crime that is generally heard before a judge and jury in the County Court or the Supreme Court a criminal case. Examples of indictable offences include assault and armed robbery.

indictment   A document that lists the the accused’s name, the charges against the accused and the particulars of the offence, and is filed with the court to begin criminal proceedings.

industrial disease   Damage to health caused by conditions in a workplace in a particular industry, or connected with a particular type of work. For example, lung disease caused by working in a mine or a wheat silo without a face mask.

infant   A child or young person under 18. In law, an infant is anyone who is not an adult (it does not mean a baby). Also called a minor.

informant   A person who swears an affidavit stating that an offence has occurred and is named on the documents that start a criminal case in court. The informant is usually a police officer, but can also be the victim of the crime. Not to be confused with an informer.

informed consent   When a person freely agrees to a procedure with full understanding of what it involves, and knowing about any risks. For example, a patient can give informed consent to surgery after a surgeon explains the risks involved.

informer   A person, often a criminal, who gives information to the police about criminal activity by other people. Informers may hope for a reward or a lighter punishment for their own offences.

infringement notice   A notice stating that a summary offence has been committed. It also states the amount of any fine that has to be paid. Includes many driving and parking offences. Also referred to as an ‘on-the-spot-fine’.

injunction   A court order that directs a person to do, or not to do, something. For example, a court can order a developer not to demolish a historic building. An injunction may be interim (operative until further order) or perpetual (continuing indefinitely).

inquisitorial legal system   A kind of legal system found outside Australia, where judges can ask witnesses questions and make their own investigations about the facts in a case. See also adversary system.

insolvent   Being unable to pay your debts in full when they are due.

instalment order   A court order that allows a debtor time to pay off a debt that has been proved in court. Payments may be made monthly or weekly instead of all at once. See also judgment debt.

instrument   A formal document, in writing or digitally authorised, which has a legal effect. For example, a transfer of land is an instrument that has the effect of changing ownership from one person to another.

intellectual property   Rights given by legislation to make money out of inventions and creative work. It includes copyright, industrial designs, patents, trademarks and plant breeder’s rights. The inventor or creator can keep the rights or sell them. Other people can be sued for making copies without paying royalties.

intensive correction order   A sentence that is served in the community rather than in jail. Intensive correction orders have very strict conditions attached to them.

interested witness   (1) In any legal proceeding, a person who gives evidence of matters before the court but has an interest in the outcome, so may have less credibility than an independent witness. (2) A witness to a will or other document who has an interest in the outcome. For example, a spouse who is given property or power under the terms of the will, and also signs it as a witness.

interim order   A temporary court order that stays in place only until the court can make a final decision on the issue at a full hearing.

interpleader summons   An action by which a person who claims a right to property can bring the question before a court to determine ownership.

interrogation   The asking of questions. In criminal cases, the questioning of suspects by police. In civil proceedings, a pre-hearing process in which one party asks the other party a series of written questions, called interrogatories, which must be answered on oath.

intervention order   A court order that prohibits a person harming or harassing another person. See also family violence intervention order; personal safety intervention order.

intestate   Without a will. A person is said to have died intestate if they die without making a will. Their property is then distributed to the nearest relatives in a set order according to law.

invalid   Not valid; with no legal effect and not enforceable at law. For example a legal provision or document may be invalid because it is not in proper legal form.

involuntary patient   A patient admitted to a mental hospital on a doctor’s recommendation, without the patient’s consent.

irreconcilable difference   Long-term disagreement between parties that the court accepts are serious and cannot be overcome.

irretrievable breakdown (of a marriage)   The final end or collapse of the relationship. If the marriage cannot be saved, the court will grant a divorce if the husband and wife have been separated for 12 months or more. That period of separation is accepted as evidence of the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

ITP   See Independent Third Person (ITP).


joint tenants   A form of ownership in which two or more people own property together, so that the whole property is undivided and equally shared. There are no separate shares that can be left in a will, because if one of the joint owners dies, the property remains with the other owners. Compare with tenants in common.

judgment debt   The amount of money that a court has ordered a debtor to pay.

judicial review   The court’s review of an administrative decision on the basis of a legal error in the decision-making process. For example, a court can review a decision by an official on the ground that the official is biased. Compare review on the merits. See also administrative act.

jurisdiction   The authority of a court or tribunal to hear matters brought before it, based on some factor such as area or law, amount of money claimed, or geographic area.

juror   A member of a jury.

jury   A panel of people selected from the general public to decide whether an accused in a criminal case is guilty or not guilty, or to decide questions of fact and the amount to be awarded as damages in civil cases.


knowingly concerned   Consciously and deliberately involved in committing an offence.


lawyer–client costs   The costs a lawyer charges their own client.

lease   A document that sets out an agreement between a landlord and a tenant for the renting out of property, or for the use of other personal property such as a car.

leasehold   Rental of real property. Leasehold gives the leaseholder possession but not ownership.

legally binding   Able to be enforced by law.

legatee   A person who receives a gift in a will. The gift, called a legacy, is not land but usually something else of value, such as jewellery or shares.

legislation   Statutory rules made by parliament or by bodies the parliament delegates power to, for example a local council or a registration authority. See delegated legislation; statute.

lessee   A person who rents property, for example a tenant who rents a house from a landlord.

lessor   A person who owns property and leases it (rents it out) to another person.

letter of demand   A letter, usually written by a lawyer for their client, or by a creditor, telling the person who receives it that unless they do what the letter says they will be sued. Often a letter of demand asks a debtor to repay a loan to avoid being sued, but the demand could be about any legal claim.

letters of administration   A document that gives a person authority to manage the property of a person who has died without making a valid will that covers all their estate. See also intestate.

liability   Legal responsibility, enforced by civil or criminal courts.

libel   See defamation.

lien   The right to hold a person’s property as security until an obligation is performed. For example, a car repairer can hold onto a car that has been repaired until the repair bill has been paid.

limitation period   The period within which time court proceedings must be issued. This varies according to the type of case and requires legal advice. It is generally 15 years to recover land and 6 years for contracts and torts other than personal injuries (3 years if the injury was discoverable, and early notification requirements may apply, but a more generous long-stop limitation period may also apply).

linked credit provider   A credit provider who has an agreement with someone selling goods, for example a car. If a customer wants to buy goods but needs to borrow the money, the seller will suggest the buyer go to that credit provider.

liquidated   An amount of money that is definite, or easily worked out. For example, the cost of a repair bill. See also unliquidated.

liquidated damages   An amount fixed in a contract as the amount the parties agree will be payable if the contract is broken. It must be a realistic amount to compensate the other party, not a penalty. See also damages.

litigant   A party in a civil action.

litigation   Court proceedings about a civil dispute (not a criminal case).

litigation guardian   An adult who acts in court for a child or person with an intellectual disability. A litigation guardian must pay for the costs of the court action if it is unsuccessful. See also McKenzie Friend; next friend.

local laws   Laws made and enforced by municipal councils within their boundaries. Previously called by-laws. See delegated legislation.

locus standi   See standing.

long-stop limitation period   In personal injury cases including consumer cases, a period of 12 years from the date of the act or omission that caused death, within which time court proceedings for damages must be issued.


maintenance   Money paid to a person to financially support them. When a couple has separated both parents have a duty to support their children, and a court can order a parent to make regular payments to support the children. Maintenance for a spouse is now less common, and must be applied for within 12 months of a divorce. It is usually covered in a final settlement of all property.

malice   A desire to cause harm to someone, in a criminal act of by defamation.

mandamus   An order made by the Supreme Court requiring a lower court, government body or official to do something that they have a duty to do. For example, the court might order a minister to reconsider an application for a new broadcasting licence they have failed to consider properly.

mandatory   Required by law to be done; a law that must be strictly complied with. Under mandatory reporting, people in particular jobs to tell a government agency if they know an offence is being committed – for example, doctors and teachers must report child abuse. Mandatory sentencing requires judges to give an automatic jail term for certain offences.

marriage   A voluntary, formal and legally binding agreement between two people to have a permanent relationship together. There must be a statement in front of official witnesses who register the marriage with the authorities. See also cohabitation; de facto; divorce; domestic relationship.

material   Relevant or important. For example, material evidence is something that helps to prove an argument in a criminal case.

material form   Any form of storage from which a copyright work can be reproduced.

McKenzie Friend   The general term used to describe a person who sits with and assists a party in court proceedings if they do not have any legal representation and the court agrees. They assist by taking notes and offering quiet advice. See also litigation guardian; next friend.

means test   A list of requirements that a person must meet to qualify for a benefit such as a pension or other financial assistance. Means tests generally take into account a person’s income and assets.

mediation   A form of alternative dispute resolution where an independent person (a mediator) is appointed to help the parties come to agreement. Mediators do not decide the outcome of the dispute. They help the parties consider the issues and best possible outcome. Parties may choose to use mediation instead of going to court, or the court may order the parties to go to mediation as a way of avoiding a court hearing. See also arbitration; conciliation; negotiation.

mens rea   The mental part of a crime that the prosecution must prove in a trial. For example, an intention to steal is the mens rea for the crime of theft. There is also a physical part of a crime, known as actus reus, that must be proved by the prosecution. A crime may have more than one mental element, such as intention, recklessness, negligence, dishonesty, or malice.

mention date   The first day on which a criminal matter is brought before a Magistrates’ Court. On that day, a person tells the court whether they will plead guilty or not guilty to a criminal charge. A case can only be finalised on the mention day if it is a plea of guilty.

merchantable quality   Being in good enough condition to be sold. Under Australian consumer protection laws, goods must be of merchantable quality.

minor   In Victoria, a child or young person under 18. See also infant.

misleading or deceptive conduct   Something done by a manufacturer or seller that is unfair, dishonest or likely to mislead a consumer when buying goods or services.

misrepresentation   Making a statement or doing something that is false, to try to get someone to do something they would not otherwise do, for example buy goods of poor quality.

mitigating circumstances   Circumstances which reduce the sanction a court will order for committing an offence, or the amount of damages a court will order against a civil defendant.

moral rights   The rights of the creator, not the owner, of an artistic, dramatic or literary work or film to have their authorship acknowledged and to protect the integrity of the work or film. For example, the right not to have someone else’s signature added to their work, or have changes made to it so that it expresses a different idea.

mortgage   A restriction attached to ownership of property to secure the repayment of money borrowed. The mortgage stops the owner of the property selling it until they have paid off the debt.

mortgagee   A person or body, such as a bank, that lends money secured by a mortgage over the property of the borrower.

mortgagor   A person who borrows money and signs a mortgage as security. The money is often lent to buy something valuable, such as real estate, and the mortgage is a debt over that property.


native title   The interests and rights of Indigenous Australians to their traditional land. This title is not the same as a certificate of title. It is a connection to land under traditional laws and customs that has not been interrupted by later settlement and permits use of the land for traditional purposes.

natural justice   Rules that courts, other dispute settlement bodies and government officials must follow to ensure that decisions are fair to all parties. Examples include the requirement that decision-makers act fairly, without bias, and the right of all parties involved in a case to present their side of a dispute. See also administrative law.

necessaries   Things such as food and basic clothes that the law says are needed for people to live a reasonable life. A minor, in Victoria someone under 18 years old, cannot enter a legally enforceable contract, except for necessaries.

negligence   An act that breaches a duty to take reasonable care and results in loss or damage to another person. See also tort.

negotiable instrument   A signed document, such as a cheque, that transfers money from person to person.

negotiation   An approach to dispute resolution where both parties discuss the matter in dispute between them, with the aim of reaching a settlement through a consensus, compromise or agreement. See ADR (alternative dispute resolution); arbitration; conciliation; mediation.

next friend   A person who brings a court action on behalf of a child or a person of unsound mind. See also litigation guardian; independent witness; McKenzie Friend.

nominal damages   A small amount of damages a court can order a defendant to pay when a right has been violated but no real damage of monetary value has been done to the plaintiff. For example, a person can sue for trespass if a person goes onto their property without permission. The court would order nominal damages if no harm was done to the property.

nominee   (1) A person put forward as a candidate for an elected position. (2) A person chosen to act on behalf of someone else. See also agent.

non-custodial sentence   A sentence for a criminal offence that does not involve imprisonment. The offender would normally be sentenced to a form of rehabilitation. See also ICO (inensive correction order).

non-parole period   The minimum period that a person must spend in prison before they are eligible to be released on parole. See also parole.

notice of defence   In a civil case, a document that a defendant must give to a plaintiff informing them that they will defend the lawsuit against them, and the reasons why.

notional earnings   The amount of money a person is expected to earn in a week. If a person does not work, the court calculates how much the person would be capable of earning if they did work.

nuisance   Doing something that stops another person fully using and enjoying land they own or occupy. For example, someone burning off smelly rubbish in their backyard might ruin a neighbour’s enjoyment of their garden. See also private nuisance; public nuisance.


oath   A person’s promise when they swear to tell the truth in court, or when signing an affidavit. A person taking an oath places one hand on the Bible or other holy book to demonstrate how seriously they take their promise. See also affirmation.

obiter dictum   Words said or written by a judge, when deciding a court case, which are not necessary for the decision. For example, a judge in the Supreme Court of Victoria might say in passing that the law on theft in the United Kingdom is not the same as the law on theft in Victoria. Since the Supreme Court is not bound by United Kingdom law, the judge’s comment about it is not necessary for the court’s decision.

offence   A criminal act prohibited by state or commonwealth criminal law. An offence is either a summary offence (minor) or an indictable offence (serious).

offender   A person who has committed a crime.

offer   The first step in agreeing to make a legally binding agreement. An offer must be accepted before there can be a legally enforceable contract. For example, a person can offer to sell their car for $5000 and a buyer can accept the offer and pay that purchase price.

ombudsman   A public official appointed to investigate citizens’ complaints against government departments and statutory authorities. A specialised ombudsman resolves consumer complaints in a particular industry, for example the banking ombudsman for the banking industry. See also statutory authority.

on their own undertaking   When a person is released on bail without having a surety to vouch for them. They just have to promise they will attend court on a specified date. See also recognisance.

onus of proof   See burden of proof.

order nisi   An order that will come into force at the end of a stated period unless a specified event happens. See also decree absolute; decree nisi.

Orders-in-Council Laws   made by the Governor-in-Council, or at the federal level, by the Governor-General-in-Council. They are made under the authority of relevant Acts of Parliament and may also be known as regulations. See delegated legislation.

originating motion   The application that starts a court proceeding. The process, which is different for different courts, is set out in rules made by the court. Also called the originating process.

own motion   Decision by a body to take action, such as starting an investigation, without a complaint having been made. For example, a court can, ‘of its own motion’, without being asked by the parties in a case, find a person guilty of contempt of court.

owners corporation   A body corporate created by registration of a plan of subdivision or a plan of strata or cluster subdivision. See also prescribed owners corporation.


paramount   The most important thing, above anything else. An act of paramount force is one that cannot be made subject to another for its operation.

paramountcy principle   The family law principle that the welfare of children is the most important consideration to be taken into account when court orders are being made.

parenting order   A court order for the care of children when their separated or divorced parents cannot reach agreement on a parenting plan. The order covers matters such as where the child will live, contact with the parents and financial support.

parenting plan   A written agreement between parents who are separated or divorced, covering arrangements for the care and financial support of their children, including where the children will live and who will pay for what.

parol agreement   A verbal agreement.

parol evidence   Verbal evidence. The parol evidence rule says that where a written agreement exists, verbal evidence cannot be used to change the plain meaning of that agreement as written.

parole   To free a prisoner after they have served a minimum term, but before the end of their sentence. While on parole the person may be subject to conditions such as having to report regularly to police.

party   A person or organisation directly involved in a court case. Parties include the plaintiff or applicant, the defendant, and any third party added to the action, but not independent witnesses.

party–party costs   Legal costs of one party paid by the other party, as ordered by the court. Most often paid by the losing party to the successful party. See also costs; indemnity costs.

pecuniary   Involving money. A pecuniary loss is a loss of money and a pecuniary penalty is a fine.

perjury The criminal offence of lying under oath, when questioned in court or making a sworn statement.   See also affirmation; oath.

permanent care order   A court order that a child live with someone who is not a parent of the child but now has long-term care and responsibility for the child.

perpetrator   A person who commits a crime. See also offender.

perpetual succession   The fact that a company or organisation continues even if one or more of its members dies. Legal ownership of its property is not interrupted by death because everything is owned by the company or group as a whole.

person responsible   A person who makes decisions about medical treatment for a person who cannot give informed consent to it themselves. See also informed consent.

personal property security   A legal charge over a chattel or other personal property that guarantees repayment of a debt. The charge stops the debtor selling the property until the debt is paid off, and debtor agrees to give up the property to cover repayments if the debtor fails to pay. Similar to a mortgage over real property (land or real estate).

personal property   Any property that is not freehold land (real property).

personal safety intervention order   A court order made to protect a person from violence, intimidation or harassment by someone who is not a family member. See also intervention order; family violence intervention order.

plaintiff   A person who begins a civil action against another person.

pleadings   Written statements submitted by both parties before a civil action to set out the claims being made by each party.

police brief   Evidence that the police prosecutor uses to prove the guilt of a person charged with a criminal offence.

portability   Able to be moved. For example, mobile phone numbers and health insurance contribution periods are portable (can be moved between suppliers). You can take them with you if you change from one service provider to another.

possession   (1) Having control over property. Possession is not the same as ownership. For example, a bicycle you have borrowed from a friend is in your possession but you do not own it. (2) Having illegal drugs on your person or property.

power of attorney   A formal, written legal document in which one person gives another person power to make decisions or take actions for them in certain situations. See also enduring power; supportive attorney.

precedent   The doctrine that courts must follow past rulings of higher courts in very similar cases. For example, the County Court of Victoria must follow relevant rulings of the Supreme Court of Victoria. The precedent comes from the reasons a judge has given for their decision in a case. See also case law.

pre-hearing conference   An informal, compulsory and confidential conference between the parties in a court action to try to reach a settlement or clarify any matters in dispute before the full hearing.

preliminary examination or hearing   See committal proceedings.

prerogative writ   An order made by the Supreme Court of Victoria or the High Court of Australia to cancel the claimed legal effect of a decision (certiorari), or to require a body to do something (mandamus), or to prohibit a body from acting outside its authority (prohibition). See also ultra vires.

prescribed owners corporation   An owners corporation that levies annual fees in excess of $200,000 in a financial year, or is responsible for a complex of more than 100 lots, including any accessory lots such as car parks or storage areas.

pre-sentence report   A report the court considers before sentencing a young person. It is usually prepared by the Department of Human Services (Victoria).

presentment   A document listing the charges against an accused. It is given to the court to begin a court case.

presumption of innocence   The principle in criminal law that every person is innocent until a court finds them guilty.

prima facie   Something that seems to be the case, on the face of it. For example, if a court requires a prima facie case to exist before a person can start a legal action, there must be enough evidence to suggest, without going into the case in full, that the claim could succeed.

prima facie   case   A serious case which has a real possibility of ultimate success.

prima facie evidence   Enough evidence to convict a person of an offence, if the ‘best case’ of the prosecution is accepted. Prima facie evidence must be capable of proving the elements of the offence beyond reasonable doubt. However, it is always open to the defendant to raise some kind of defence, so the prosecution case may still fail in the end.

primary victim   Someone injured or killed as a direct result of an act of violence, not a secondary victim.

principal relief   The main things a plaintiff in a civil case is seeking to get from a defendant by taking them to court. It can include getting compensation from the defendant or having them do, or stop doing, something.

private nuisance   Interference with another person’s enjoyment and use of their land. Examples include neighbours making noise late at night and smells from uncollected rubbish.

private ruling   An opinion given by the Australian Taxation Office to an individual taxpayer. The ruling is binding on the ATO, so if the taxpayer acts according to the opinion, the ATO cannot take the taxpayer to court if the opinion later turns out to be wrong.

privative clause   provision in a statute that seeks to prevent judicial review of decisions made under that statute.

privilege against self-incrimination   An accused person’s right in criminal cases, subject to certain limits, not to do or say anything that could be used as evidence against them in a court case.

privileged information   Information that is protected and cannot be used in court.

privity of contract   The principle that only the actual parties to an agreement can be bound by it or go to court to enforce it.

pro bono   Free or reduced-fee assistance in a legal matter.

probate   The process of proving that a deceased person’s will is valid and was the last will they made before they died. The Probate Division of the Supreme Court accepts the will and seals it. The executor carrying out the instructions as set out in the will is then safe from legal action.

probation   A non-custodial sentence that is served in the community and which does not involve a prison term. It requires good behaviour and supervision by a probation officer for a specified period. See also ICO (intensive correction order).

procure   (1) Obtain. For example, police can procure evidence from a crime scene. (2) To encourage or influence a person to commit a crime.

professional indemnity insurance   A type of insurance that covers a person against a claim that they did not take enough care in doing their job. Lawyers and prescribed owners corporations, for example, are required by law to take out professional indemnity insurance.

prohibited name   A name that cannot be registered because it is not in the public interest to allow it. For example, an obscene or offensive name, a name that is so long that it is totally impractical, or a name that claims connection with the Olympic Games, can be refused registration.

prohibition   An order made by the Supreme Court of Victoria or the High Court of Australia prohibiting a body from acting outside its authority. See also jurisdiction; prerogative writ; ultra vires.

prohibition notice   A safety notice that bans some activity that could be a risk to workers or others at a workplace.

prohibition   An order to stop a lower court or tribunal making a decision in a case.

prosecution   The party presenting evidence in court on behalf of the state or Commonwealth government against a person accused of committing a crime. Also called the Crown.

protected property   In bankruptcy, goods owned by a bankrupt that cannot be taken away and sold to pay creditors. This includes clothes, ordinary household furniture, some trade tools, and a car of low value. Compare divisible property.

protection application   An application to a court by the Department of Human Services (Victoria) for an authorisation to protect a child from harm. If the application is successful the court may authorise the removal of a child from their family, if the child is in danger of harm because the family or other carers are unable or unwilling to protect them.

protection order   An order made by a court in response to a protection application. This may involve removal of the child from the family.

prothonotary   The title of the chief clerk of the Supreme Court of Victoria, the equivalent of the registrar of other courts. The prothonotary is responsible for the court’s administrative functions, and can review costs and fees charged to parties, conduct mediations and bring charges for contempt of court if someone breaks the court’s rules or shows disrespect towards it.

provable debt   In a bankruptcy, a debt accepted by the trustee for proportional payment from available funds. The creditor receives a share of the bankrupt’s estate and the bankrupt is released from having to pay the full amount of the debt.

proxy   A person who has been given power to do something on behalf of another person, such as voting for them at a meeting. The document authorising the action is also called a proxy, or a proxy form.

prudential   Honest and careful conduct in finance and business management.

psychosurgery   Brain surgery used as a way of treating mental disorders.

public nuisance   A nuisance that interferes with the rights of members of the public. For example, unauthorised blocking of a public road so that drivers could not use it.

public officer   A person appointed to act on behalf of a company or an incorporated association in any public dealings.

pursuant to   By authority of, or in accordance with, or as directed by, some court order or legislation.


qualified privilege   A defence that gives protection against a defamation lawsuit. It can be used if information was not given to cause harm, and was given to someone who had a public interest in getting it and who acted reasonably when they published it. See also absolute privilege.

quantum   An amount. For example, the quantum of damages awarded by a court is the amount of money the defendant must pay.

quorum   The number of people who have to be present in a meeting for a vote passed by the meeting to be valid. For example, one-third of all the senators have to be present in parliament for a Senate vote to be valid.


RCTO (restricted community treatment order)   Release into the community of a patient on a hospital order, on certain conditions, if treatment can be safely given in the community.

real estate   Real property.

real property   Land, and any permanent buildings on the land. Also called real estate or real property. Compare personal property.

rebuttable   Capable of being proved wrong in court. Compare deemed.

recognisance   A bond or undertaking made to show a person understands what is required and will do something as promised. For example, an accused person can undertake to a court on recognisance that they will appear at a later date for their hearing. A recognisance may include a payment, known as a security, to back up the commitment.

referral authority   An authority or government department to which a planning permit must be referred for advice before it is granted.

registrar   The officer in charge of the administrative section of a court, which is known as the registry. See also prothonotary.

registry   The administrative section of a court that accepts documents filed with the court and also handles some public enquiries.

regulations or rules   Laws made by a body other than parliament but under its authority. These are made by the Governor of Victoria on the advice of the Victorian government, known as the Governor in Council. The rules are prepared and administered by government departments and statutory bodies under authority granted by a relevant Act of parliament. See also delegated legislation; local laws.

related victim   A person with a close family or personal relationship to a person who was killed as a result of an act of violence.

release   A document signed by parties ending a court action. The party who began the action agrees to drop it, often in exchange for a payment by the other party. Also called terms of settlement.

remand in custody   An order that a person charged with an offence but has not been convicted, be kept in police custody or imprisoned until they go to court for a hearing.

remission   A reduction in the length of a prison term.

renewable insurance policy   Insurance provided for a particular period of time, of a kind that is usual to renew at the end of that period of time.

repairer’s lien   The right of a repairer to hold repaired goods until payment for their repair is received.

repeal   To cancel the whole or part of an Act of parliament or a regulation.

repossession   Taking back goods bought on credit from a debtor who still owes money on them. Repossession is an action commonly taken by creditors when a debtor fails to pay a loan on a large item with some resale value, such as a car.

represented person   A person whose financial affairs are controlled by an administrator because they are not capable of managing their own affairs due to disability, mental illness, injury or other incapacitating circumstances. State Trustees Limited is the administrator for about half of the represented persons in Victoria.

rescinded   Revoked or cancelled.

rescission   The ending of a contract in a manner that places the parties to the contract in the position they were in before the contract existed (where restitution is possible). For example, in a rescission of a contract for the sale of a car the seller would get back the car and the buyer would get back their purchase money. See also termination.

residence order   A parenting order that states who a child will live with – usually one of their parents – after a separation or divorce.

respondent   (1) A defendant in a civil case that has been appealed to a higher court. (2) A person against whom some originating motion has been issued by an applicant. See also appellant.

responsible authority   The government department or agency that is named in an Act of parliament as the body with power to exercise authority in a particular situation, for example granting permits or conducting inspections.

restitution   Making good, returning things to the way they were. For example a court can order restitution of stolen goods to someone who is entitled to them; a party to a contract that has been rescinded is entitled to restitution that restores the status quo.

restraining order   In family law, a court order that prohibits someone from harassing or molesting another person. See also intervention order; personal safety intervention order; family violence intervention order.

restraint of trade   A commercial arrangement that prevents a business from freely buying or selling goods or services. For example, a seller may promise the buyer of a business that the seller will not set up a new business within 10 kilometers for 4 years. A contract like this cannot be enforced if it goes on for too long, or covers a very wide area.

retrospective law   A law that applies to something that happened in the past. For example, a law passed in 2012 that put a tax on car sales in 2011 would be a retrospective law.

reversed onus of proof   The situation where the responsibility to prove something to a court is changed, so that the party that usually does not have the burden of proof now does have it. For example, in a strict liability offence, it is the defendant who has to prove they have a defence. See also onus of proof.

review on the merits   Review of a case by a tribunal based on a full rehearing of the facts. This is different from an appeal that deals only with arguments about the law.

revocation   Cancellation of a previous law or legal document. For example, when a new will is made, the old one is usually revoked.


sanction   (1) Punishment or threat of punishment to make people do the right thing. For example, a court may impose a penalty on a party who fails to lodge documents on time; a prison sentence is a sanction imposed for an offence. (2) Approval or authorisation. For example, a company director can authorise (sanction) an employee’s spending on travel for work.

schedule   Extra information accompanying an Act of parliament or a contract, such as tables, lists or forms.

secondary victim   (1) A person who witnesses a crime or other violence and is psychologically injured by seeing it. (2) The parent or guardian of a child who has been injured. Compare primary victim.

section 32 statement   See vendor’s statement.

secured creditor   A person or company that is owed money and has the right to sell a debtor’s property to cover any money that has not been paid by the due date. The payment is secured by a mortgage, charge or lien over the property of the debtor.

security interest   An interest in or power over property to secure payment of a debt or obligation, generally in the form of a mortgage, charge or lien.

security patient/resident   A person who has been sent to a mental hospital or residential institution rather than to prison.

security   Money or property promised to be handed over as a guarantee for repayment of a loan, or as a guarantee that a defendant will meet their bail conditions.

self-incrimination   Saying something that might be used against you in court. The privilege against self-incrimination is the right, with certain limitations, not to do or say any-thing that might later be used as evidence against you.

self-representation   Presenting your own case in court without having a lawyer there to assist you.

self-represented litigant   A person who does not have a lawyer to appear for them in court and who presents their case to the court themselves. Also called ‘unrepresented litigant’.

sentencing order   A court order that imposes a penalty, such as imprisonment, in a criminal case. Compare non-custodial sentence.

sequestration order   An order taking away a bankrupt’s property so that it can be used to pay off their debts.

serious indictable offence   An indictable offence that has a penalty of imprisonment for five years or more.

serious injury   Injury as a result of a car accident or other transport accident that causes serious long-term damage. Includes losing an arm, a leg, or bodily functions, suffering continuing mental or behavioural disturbances, or, for a pregnant woman, losing the baby.

service   Formal delivery of legal documents to a person to tell them there are court proceedings against them which they must defend, or to make sure a witness in a case knows when they have to go to court to give evidence.

servitude   (1) Being completely under the control of another, for example in sexual servitude (sex slavery). (2) A legal relationship between two pieces of land, where one is subject to a right that can be exercised over it by the owner of the other (e.g. an easement).

severable (parts of a contract)   Able to be removed by a court without stopping the rest of the contract having legal effect.

sheriff   An officer of the court who is responsible for the enforcement of court orders.

show cause   The requirement that a party convince a government authority or a court why some decision should not be made against them. For example, to get bail, an accused person might have to show a court why they should not be held in prison. A defendant who has to show cause has a reversed burden of proof (i.e. it is the defendant, not the prosecution, that has to prove something).

sine die   Latin for ‘another day’. Used when a court hearing is adjourned indefinitely, usually when the parties say they have reached agreement. The case can then only be brought back if one of the parties applies to the court. See also adjourn.

slander   See defamation.

solicitor   A legal practitioner (lawyer) who sees clients and opens files to deal with their legal matters but usually does not appear in court. See also barrister.

solvent   Having enough money to pay all your debts when they are due.

special damages   Part of the money a court orders to be paid as compensation by a defendant. Special damages cover specific expenses that can be calculated exactly, such as medical expenses or the cost of buying a replacement item. See also damages; general damages.

specific performance   Carrying out the precise obligations that are set out in a contract. For example, a contract might require the sale of a piece of land. If the parties do not perform a contract a court can order specific performance.

spent conviction   A criminal conviction which is removed from a person’s criminal record if they do not reoffend during a certain period.

stale complaint   A complaint that fails because the person making the complaint has waited too long to take action.

stamp duty   A state tax on the transfer of ownership of property such as land, or on leases.

stand down   To adjourn (postpone) a case. Also called standing over, as in ‘standing the matter over’.

standard of proof   The level of proof required level to prove a case in court. In criminal cases the prosecution must prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. In civil (non-criminal) cases, the plaintiff must prove that their argument is more likely to be true than false. This is known as proof on the balance of probabilities.

standing   The right to appear in a court action and be heard. In general, a person cannot bring a case or have their say in a court about something that does not directly affect their interests. They must be able to show that they have sufficient interest in the case because, for example, of possible effects on their property or commercial activities. Also called locus standi.

status quo   The way things are now, the existing situation.

statute   A law made by parliament, either state or Commonwealth. Also called an Act, and Act of parliament or legislation.

statute-barred debts   Debts for which the right to take action to recover payment is limited to a specified period. After that time expires, an action will not succeed in court.

statutory declaration   A written statement of facts that meet statutory requirements by being signed and declared to be true before an official authorised to take declarations.

statutory defence   Protection against being sued that is stated in legislation. The defence stops a person being found liable in court. For example, a person who is giving evidence in court is can say things would be defamation if they said it anywhere else.

statutory   Found in a statute of delegated legislation. For example, a statutory authority or body is a person or organisation that has special powers given by parliament to do work for the public benefit.

stay of proceedings   An order that a particular legal action stop. A stay may be for a fixed period, or until some stated event occurs, or permanent.

strict liability   Holding a person responsible for breaking a law, whether or not they intended to break it, or were negligent. Proof that the person broke the law is enough. See also liability; mens rea; negligence.

subpoena   A court order saying that a person must appear in court to give verbal evidence or provide particular documents. See also summons.

substantiation   Providing proof of a claim, for example that an expense was incurred (where producing a receipt substantiates the claim).

sue   To take legal action in a civil case.

sufficiently interested party   A person or company that is not a party to a contract but has been involved in a transaction in some way. This gives the court reason to allow them to be named as a party in the proceeding.

summary offence   A minor criminal offence, for example being drunk and disorderly, usually heard in the Magistrates’ Court. Compare indictable offence.

summons   A formal document issued by a court which says someone must appear in court on the date stated in the document. See also service; writ.

supervision order   An order the Children’s Court may impose upon a young person found guilty of an offence. Under this order, the young person will be supervised by a probation officer and will have to obey any other conditions the court imposes upon them. These conditions can be placed on the young person’s parents or persons with whom the young person is living. Also, a supervision order requires a person arguing substantial mental impairment in a serious criminal case to be admitted to a mental institution.

supportive attorney   A person appointed to support someone in making and giving effect to their decisions by accessing their personal information and communicating on their behalf, for example in discussions with medical services. See also enduring power; power of attorney.

surety   In criminal law, a person who promises a court that an accused person released on bail will attend court on a hearing date. If the accused person does not attend court, the surety must pay the court the amount of money stated in the bail documents. Also referred to as the guarantor. The sum of money payable if there is a breach is also referred to as the surety.

suspended sentence   In a criminal matter, an adjournment without conviction. The sentence may be partially or wholly suspended, or a combined custody and treatment order.

suspension   Exclusion of a student from school for a stated period as a disciplinary measure (a less severe punishment than expulsion).

sworn evidence   Evidence given in court under oath or affirmation.


taxable form   Set out in a way that meets the requirements for assessing a lawyer’s bill of costs. A bill in taxable form shows details of all the lawyer’s services and the charges made for each.

tenancy   The agreement between a landlord and a tenant for the rental of a property.

tenants in common   A form of joint ownership in which two or more people own property. Each person has their own separate share, and that share of the property can be left in a will. Compare with joint tenants.

tender   To offer or hand over. For example, evidence is tendered in a court. Money is ‘legal tender’ that can be handed over in exchange for goods. A debtor can tender (offer) an amount of money in full payment of a debt, even if the debt is more than the amount tendered. Also, a tender can be a quote offering to construct a building or undertake renovations for a given price.

termination   The end of something. Contracts terminate when the parties have done what they agreed. A contract can also be terminated without being completed, for example if one party breaks the contract, or it is impossible to carry out.

terms of reference   The formal list of things that a body set up to examine a matter of public interest can investigate and report on. The body must investigate all the matters listed, and it cannot go beyond them.

testamentary capacity   The legal and mental ability to draw up a valid will. The mental capacity to understand about property rights and family responsibilities are important aspects of capacity.

testator   A person who makes a will.

therapeutic privilege   The right of doctors and other health professionals, in some circumstances, not to give a patient information that they believe it would harm them to know.

third party objector   A person appealing against a decision to grant approval for developments that may be harmful to the environment.

Torrens title   The most common system of land registration, managed by Land Use Victoria, where a person’s ownership of the land is registered and guaranteed by being on the register (unlike the old system of title deeds for general law land that is not yet under this system). See also conveyance.

tort   A civil wrong that causes harm, intentionally or otherwise. A person affected by a tort can take action in court to claim compensation for damage caused by the wrong, or an injunction to stop the wrong continuing.

trafficking   Trading people or illegal products such as guns, drugs or ivory, often across borders, for commercial reward.

transfer of land   A document used to change ownership of land from one person to another. The transfer must be registered with Land Victoria. See also certificate of title.

treatment order   A court order saying that a person convicted of a criminal offence will be sent to a psychiatric hospital for treatment instead of going to prison.

trespass   (1) Going onto someone’s land without permission. (2) Trespass to goods is wrongful interference with someone’s personal property, for example doing something that harms someone’s computer. (3) Trespass to the person is doing something that interferes with a person’s body without their permission, for example giving a very drunk person a tattoo.

tribunal   A body set up to hear and decide disputes, usually with less formality and less strict rules of evidence than in a court proceeding.

trust account   A bank account in which money is held on behalf another person, not for the use of the account holder. For example, a lawyer’s trust account holds clients’ money. It is regulated by strict accounting rules that safeguard the clients’ interests. For example, a trustee may hold a child’s inheritance for them until they turn 18.

trust deed   A formal legal document setting out the rights and obligations of all the parties to a trust.

trust   A type of property ownership or arrangement where one party, known as the trustee, holds property or money for the benefit of another party, referred to as the beneficiary.


ultra vires   ‘Beyond power’. An act of a person or body that is outside their powers under the law. For example, it would be ultra vires for the Victorian parliament to pass laws applying to the New South Wales Police Force because this is a power of the New South Wales parliament, not the Victorian parliament.

unconscionable conduct   Behaviour that takes unfair advantage of a vulnerable person in a contract or other transaction. The vulnerability can be due to factors such as poor education, disability, language difficulties or being affected by alcohol.

undertake   To promise to do or not do something, such as returning to court on a certain day, or to hand a document over to another party in a legal proceeding. An undertaking is enforceable by attachment or like an injunction.

undue influence   Taking unfair or improper advantage of the weakness of another person. The influence is to make them agree to do or not to do something they would not do of their own free will.

unliquidated   Not yet set as a definite amount. For example, unliquidated damages are damages where the final amount is still to be worked out by a judge or jury; an unliquidated debt has not been paid or cleared balance remains uncertain or in dispute. See also liquidated.

unrepresented litigant See self-represented litigant.


valid   Legally binding or effective.

vendor terms   A contract of sale of real estate that allows the buyer to pay the seller in instalments over a longer period than usual, for example 3 or 5 years. Ownership remains with the seller until the final payment is made.

vendor   A seller.

vendor’s statement   A document that a seller (vendor) of real estate must give to the buyer buyer before a contract of sale is signed. It contains information about the property, such as rates and council planning restrictions that affect it. Also called a section 32 statement.

vexatious   Causing trouble without good legal reason. A vexatious litigant repeatedly starts court cases that have no chance of succeeding. Vexatious litigation is a court action that is unnecessary or undertaken only to cause trouble, embarrassment or inconvenience for the other party.

victim impact statement   A statement made to the court by a victim of a crime. It sets out details of injury, loss or damage caused by the crime.

visa   A permit that allows a person who is not a citizen to stay in a country on certain conditions, for the length of time stated in the visa.

void   Having no legal effect. A void agreement has something wrong with it, so it cannot be a legally binding contract. For example, a verbal agreement to buy land would be void, because the law says those contracts have to be in writing.

voidable   Able to be cancelled, but having full legal effect until that happens. A voidable agreement is one that may have something wrong with it, so either of the parties could cancel it if they wanted to. There are certain restrictions on what is, and is not, voidable that require advice from a lawyer. See also rescission.

VoIP (Voice Over Internet Prorocols)   A general term for a family of transmission technologies for delivery of voice communications over the Internet or other networks.

voir dire In a criminal trial, a process where the judge hears legal arguments and evidence from witnesses after the jury has left the room. A voir dire may be used by a judge to decide whether evidence should be heard by the jury or not.

voluntary patient   A patient admitted to a mental facility with the patient’s consent.

voluntary   Done by your own free will. See also CTO (community treatment order).


waive   To give up a legal right or claim.

warrant   A document issued by a court directing an officer to take certain action. May be a warrant of apprehension, directing that a person be arrested and brought before a court; a warrant of commitment, directing that a person be arrested and imprisoned; a warrant of distress, directing that a person’s goods be seized to satisfy a debt; or a warrant of seizure and sale of real estate.

warranty   A promise in a contract. For example, a promise by a manufacturer that goods will be repaired or replaced if they turn out to be faulty.

waste   Something that does lasting damage to land or alters the nature of the property so that it can no longer be used in the same way.

whistleblower   A person within an organisation who makes a complaint or alerts authorities that the organisation is doing something illegal or inappropriate.

will   A document that sets out what a person wants to happen to their money and other property after they die.

witness   person who can provide direct information based on their own knowledge about a relevant fact, and appears in court to give evidence about it. In some cases a witness may provide an affidavit or deposition setting out their evidence if they are not able to attend court.

writ   (1) A formal legal document in in the Queen’s name, commanding a person to do or refrain from doing some act. (2) The document that starts a court action. It is issued by the court at the request of a plaintiff, and given to the other party so they know there is a legal claim against them. See also summons.

write off   To cancel a debt. This means the person owing the money no longer has to pay it.


This guide draws on Fitzroy Legal Service Inc.’s online Law Handbook glossary; Trischa Mann (ed.), Australian Law Dictionary, first and third editions (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2010, 2017); and the LexisNexis Concise Australian Legal Dictionary (Chatswood, NSW: LexisNexis, 2011). Thanks to the members of the reference group for their valuable contribution in reviewing this guide.