Glossary of Terms

Common justice system vocabulary

Alberta Government Dispute Resolution Network
Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP)
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner

The people who work in the justice system often use special vocabulary that is unique to legal situations. Not knowing what a word means can cause confusion and misunderstanding.

The following vocabulary definitions are provided to help Albertans better understand their justice system and how it works.

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Something is absolute only if it is free from restriction, qualification or condition.

To be adjudicated means to have been judged, usually in a court of law.

An affidavit is a written statement given under oath for the purposes of a court action or other legal process. It is a statement intended to become evidence before a court and can be certified by a notary, lawyer or some other judicial officer.

Affirmative action is a set of actions designed to eliminate existing and continuing discrimination, to remedy effects of past discrimination, and to create systems and procedures to prevent future discrimination.

Annuities are sums of money payable each year.


Bias means a person may have a prejudice or attitude that prevents objective judgement of something.

Breach is the breaking or neglect of a law, promise or duty.

The burden of proof is the responsibility of producing sufficient evidence in support of a fact or issue and favourably persuading a judge or jury regarding that fact or issue. The burden of proof is on the prosecution.


Ceded is to have given up, yielded or surrendered.

Civil and criminal appeals are proceedings where a more senior court is asked to review a decision of a lower court or person. In appeals, lawyers argue about the application of rules of law.

A civil claim alleges the facts giving rise to the claim, the damages and/or remedies sought and any statutes upon which the plaintiff (the one claiming to be harmed) relies.

A dispute between two parties is in civil litigation when it has become the subject of a formal court action or lawsuit.

Common law is law based on past decisions reached by judges in the courts. It is precedent and not formally written in legislation.

An accused person’s spouse is not a compellable witness for the prosecution.

Payment or reimbursement for goods or services received is compensation.

Conciliation is the settlement of a dispute in an agreeable manner. It involves a process in which a neutral person meets with the parties to a dispute and explores how the dispute might be resolved.

Contempt of court is an act of defiance of the court’s authority or dignity, such as swearing at a judge, violence against a court officer or disobeying a court order to make restitution (pay for a wrong done).

Counsel is a lawyer appointed or engaged to advise or represent a client in legal matters.

The most common example of a counterclaim is a situation in which the defendant in a lawsuit not only defends the allegations made by the plaintiff, but also claims that the plaintiff caused the defendant some harm or damage.

Court decisions are rulings, orders or judgements made after consideration of the facts and the law.

Crime prevention involves measures that help decrease or prevent crime, such as educational programs in schools or programs through organizations such as Crime Stoppers.

The Crown is the power and authority of monarchs or their representatives acting in their official capacity.

Custodial institutions are supervised places where a youth who has been employed or registered in a correctional program during the day spends the night.


Damages are a cash compensation ordered by a court to offset losses or suffering caused by another’s fault or negligence. Damages are typically requested when persons sue for breach of contract or tort.

Delimitation is a fixing of limits or boundaries between the powers of the federal government and the provinces.

Discretionary prohibition is a prohibition that is not mandatory under the Criminal Code or the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It is the judge’s decision to put the prohibition in place.

Disenfranchisement is to have a right or privilege taken away.

Disposition is the act or process of getting rid of, giving away, selling etc., such as in the case of property.  In criminal justice, disposition is another word for sentence.

In provincial court, the dispute notes or notices set out the facts supporting the defence that the defendant will argue at trial and any statutes upon which the defendant relies.

Dispute resolutions are processes or systems designed to resolve disputes between parties without having to go to court.

Diversion and community conferencing are remedies or sentences that do not involve the court.

Double jeopardy, or the prosecution of a person again for an offence for which he or she has already been convicted or acquitted of, can not occur.

Driving disqualification results in a person being prohibited from driving due to committing a serious offence.


Embodied means to become part of the law.

Something to which a person is given a claim or right to is an entitlement. Treaty land entitlements are Indian claims for reserve lands that have not yet been given under the treaties.

Rights entrenched in the Charter can not be altered except by use of the amending procedures of Parliament.

An estate is made up of the assets, such as land, cash, stocks, bonds and personal property that a person accumulates during a lifetime.

Examination for discovery is an interview conducted by the other party’s lawyer. After taking an oath or giving a solemn affirmation to tell the truth, the plaintiff must answer the defendant’s lawyer’s questions, or vice versa.

Ex parte refers to proceedings that involve people on only one side of the dispute and without informing the people on the other side of the case.

Extradition laws are laws regarding the official surrender of an alleged criminal by one state or nation to another having jurisdiction over the crime charged.

Rather than a youth being charged with an offence, extrajudicial sanctions are imposed from outside of the normal sentencing procedures. The youth does not have a criminal record.  (Previously known as alternative measures)


Failing to comply involves not carrying out the conditions of an order of the court.

The written laws created by the government of Canada are federal statutes.

First-degree murder is committed with premeditation or during the course of a serious crime (such as kidnapping) and requires the most serious punishment under the law.

Foreclosures refer to a lender’s actions of repossessing and selling a property for the borrower’s default in mortgage payments.

Freedom of the press refers to the dissemination of expression of thought, belief or opinion through the medium of the press, without censure.


Garnisheeing occurs when a person who is owed money is able to go to an employer to receive the money before it would go into a debtor’s possession.

Grounds are the reason or point that something (as a legal claim or argument) relies on for validity, such as grounds for divorce.


Hate propaganda is the systematic dissemination of doctrine, rumour or selected information to promote or injure a particular race, color, ethnicity, religion or national origin.


Incarceration involves placement and restricted supervision of a convicted offender in an institution, such as a prison.

To suggest or show involvement in a crime is to incriminate a person.

The concept of intellectual property encompasses such things as patents for inventions, trademarks, industrial secrets and copyright in songs and writing.

An intensive rehabilitative custody order is a sentence that is to be served in a secure medical facility.

Intent refers to the decision to commit a certain act.

Interlocutory means temporary or can refer to housekeeping and procedural items that do not directly relate to the final decision, for example an interlocutory order can be sought against a plaintiff for additional information or details.


Jurisdiction is the power, right or authority to interpret and apply the law.

Jury secrecy rules prohibit anyone from discussing what happened during jury deliberations or the reasons the jury had for coming to their decision.


Law enforcement organizations, such as police departments or the RCMP, have the power to enforce laws.

Legal aid is provided by an organization established to serve the legal needs of people who, for financial reasons, cannot retain their own counsel.

A dispute between two parties is in litigation, or being litigated, when it has become the subject of a formal court action or lawsuit.

A community has local autonomy if it is self-governing.


Matrimonial property actions are civil claims that will divide the property obtained during a marriage between divorcing spouses.

Mobility rights refer to the rights of a person to move about within and outside the national boundaries.

Moral culpability considers the blameworthiness of a person and looks at whether he or she intended to do wrong.

Mutual rights and responsibilities are just claims, titles or privileges and obligations to others party to an agreement.

Duties under the law or due to a promise, contract or agreement that are binding on both parties are mutually binding obligations.


National negotiations involve a bargaining process in which the federal government and the provinces attempt to reach agreement on a disputed or potentially disputed matter.

Negligence involves a person’s failure to act as a reasonable person would act in similar circumstances, giving rise to another’s injury or harm. All citizens have a duty to ensure that their actions do not cause harm to others.

To talk over and arrange terms to form a contract is negotiated agreement.

Non-compliance is a failure to observe or comply with the rights of an accused under the Charter.


Omissions are an intentional or unintentional failure to act that may impose criminal liability if a duty to act under the circumstances is specified by law.

Originating notices are documents used to ask the court to review a decision made by an administrative board or tribunal.


A peace officer is a member of a police force or other person employed by the government (for example, a sheriff) to keep the public peace.

The act of a person deliberately making false or misleading statements while under oath is perjury.

Petitions set out the facts identified by the law under which the court is being asked to intervene. It ends with a suggested course of action for the court to consider. In past years, divorces were initiated by petitions.

Presumed innocent is the fundamental criminal-law principle that a person may not be convicted of a crime unless the government proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, without any burden placed on the accused to prove innocence.

Presumption of innocence refers to the fact that an accused person must be proven guilty. The law starts from the position that the accused person is innocent of the charge.

When a young person is charged with a presumptive offence the prosecution and sentencing proceeds in the ordinary adult court system unless the youth can show why it should remain in the youth court.

Probate is a Surrogate Court process which verifies the authenticity of a will and thereafter administers the estate of a deceased person according to the terms of the will.

A prognostication is a premature decision.

Public policy is a broad statement regarded by the legislature or by the courts as being of fundamental concern to the state and the whole of society.

Punitive terms are special terms in a sentence ordered by a court against a youth in exceptional cases where the court wants to give a strong message to the community that similar conduct will be severely punished.


Proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is required for conviction of a criminal defendant.

Reintegration places a youth who has served a sentence back into society through the parole system.

A person who commits more than one crime is a reoffender.

A restraint order is an order of the court forbidding the sale of property that is the product of or subject of criminal activity.

A retainer is a fee paid to a lawyer for advice or services or for a claim on services when needed.


The Charter’s provision against unreasonable search and seizure prevents police from searching a person or property and from seizing things without a warrant. The right comes into force when the person has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Second degree murder is committed without premeditation (prior thought or planning), but with the intent to kill.

Many provinces have small claims courts whose simplified proceedings allow for speedier hearings. A lawyer is not necessary or encouraged.

Solemnization of marriage refers to the performance of a formal marriage ceremony before witnesses, as distinguished from a common-law marriage.

A statement of claim alleges the facts giving rise to the claim, the damages and/or remedies sought and any statutes upon which the plaintiff (the person claiming to be harmed) relies.

A statement of defence sets out the facts supporting the defence that the defendant will argue at trial and any statutes upon which the defendant relies.

A law enacted by the legislative branch of a government is called a statute.

When the Crown enters a stay of proceedings, the prosecution is ended. It is the same as if the accused had never been charged. However, the Crown (prosecutor) can reactivate the charge within one year. When the court enters a stay of proceedings, it is effectively the same as if the accused had been acquitted. The charge may not be reactivated except by a higher court.

A summary conviction offence is a lesser offence that is generally punishable by a fine of not more than $2,000 or imprisonment for six months, or both. A few offences allow a maximum of 18 months in jail.


Tort comes from the Latin word "tortus" which means "wrong". Compensation is an important part of tort law. It is a practical way to restore injured parties to a position similar to a position similar to the one they enjoyed before the injury.

While they are not courts, tribunals are run by sets of established rules and are aimed at ensuring that all interested parties have the opportunity to make submissions before them.


A warrant is an official order authorizing a specific act, such as an arrest or the search of someone’s home.

Wills are written and signed statements, made by individuals, which provide for the disposition of their property when they die.

A writ is a formal order directing a person to do or do not do some specified act.