Department of Justice

Understanding the Court Process

Victim Services

Legal Terms


Absolute Discharge: The person is free to go and no conviction is registered against the person. This is the lightest sentence available to the Court.

Accused: The person charged with the offence (but not yet convicted).

Acquittal: The accused is found not guilty of the charges by the court.

Adjournment: The court case is temporarily set over to another time or date.

Allege: To suggest that something happened or that a person committed a crime.

Appeal: To have a trial decision reviewed by a higher Court. This is not a new trial and no witnesses are required to give evidence.

Bail: Money or property deposited with the court as a guarantee the accused will return to Court for a preliminary inquiry or trial.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: the level of proof required by the Court to find an accused guilty of having committed an offence.


Charge: A formal accusation that someone committed a crime.

Circuit court – A travelling court that visits the communities to hold court sittings.

Civil Law – The body of law that deals with disputes between private individuals or businesses.

Complainant: The person who states that a crime has been committed.

Conditional Discharge: The person found guilty of committing an offence can be ordered to obey certain conditions for a specific period of time, no jail term or other punishment.

Conditional Sentence: Sentence served in the community with conditions similar to that of a probation order. If conditions are not adhered to, remainder of sentence may be served in prison.

Conviction: A judgement by the Court that the accused is guilty of the offense.

Court of Appeal: A superior court which hears appeals from decisions of lower courts.

Cross-examination : The questioning of a witness by the lawyer who did not call the witness to testify.

Crown Prosecutor: The lawyer representing the state who prosecutes the criminal charge against the accused. The Crown Prosecutor presents the evidence against the accused.


Defence Counsel: The lawyer representing the accused.

Defendant: A person against whom legal action has been taken.

Discharge: An absolute discharge means that an accused, although guilty, is not convicted of the criminal offence, is given no punishment and will not have a criminal record. A conditional discharge is similar except the offender is first placed under certain conditions. If the offender lives up to all of the conditions, then he or she will be discharged and will not have a criminal record.

Diversion: Where an accused is dealt with through alternative measures such as participating in a treatment or support program instead of going through the traditional court system.

Evidence: Witness testimony or objects identified by witnesses which are presented to the Court to help the Court reach a decision.

Gladue report: A pre-sentence report that is sometimes ordered for a First Nation offender. The report describes the offender’s background and First Nation heritage.

Guilty: The decision by the Judge or Jury that the accused did commit the alleged crime. The accused may admit guilt by pleading guilty in Court.

Indictable offence: A category of more serious criminal offences which carry greater maximum sentences. There is no time limit on when the Crown can prosecute an indictable offence.


Judge: The person with the authority to hear a case in Court and render a decision regarding the guilt or innocence of the accused.

Judiciary: A term used to refer to judges who sit in all levels of court.

No Contact Order: A Court order preventing the accused from seeing or speaking to someone (often the victim who was harmed).

Offence: A crime.

Offender: the person who has been convicted of a criminal offence.

Perjury: When a witness gives evidence in court that the witness knows to be false. Perjury is a serious crime.

Plea: The response given by the accused when charged with an offense (“guilty” or “not guilty”).

Plea Bargaining: Negotiations between Crown and Defence Counsel regarding the charges against the accused and the plea to be entered.

Preliminary Inquiry: A hearing to determine if there is enough evidence against an accused to justify holding a trial.

Pre-sentence report: A report prepared by a probation officer prior to a sentencing hearing. It helps the judge determine an appropriate sentence for the offender. The report may include information such as the accused’s family background, education, and employment.

Probation: A sentencing option available to the Court once an accused has been found guilty which enables the Court to order the accused to obey certain conditions for a certain period.

Prosecute: The laying of charges and the legal proceedings against an individual accused of a crime.


Restitution: The court may order the offender to pay financial costs directly associated with the offence to a victim.

Sentence: The punishment given to an accused found guilty of a crime.

Sentencing Hearing: The presentation of evidence to the Court to help the Judge decide on the sentence to be given to an accused once found guilty.

Subpoena: An order of the Court telling a witness when and where he/she will be required to appear before the Court.

Summary conviction offence: A category of less serious criminal offences which usually carry lower sentences. The Crown must prosecute summary offences within six months of the offence.

Suspect – A person thought to have committed a crime.

Suspended sentence: Where a court places the offender under a Probation Order instead of imposing a sentence. If the offender follows all of the conditions of the order, and does not commit a new offence, the court will not impose a sentence on the offender.


Testify: To make statements in Court under Oath.

Trial: A hearing where Crown and Defence present evidence and the Court makes a decision.

Verdict: The decision of the Court of an accused persons guilt or innocence.

Victim: The person(s) against whom a crime(s) has been committed.

Victim fine surcharge: A fine imposed on an offender which is used by the territorial government to fund services and assistance to victims of crime.

Victim Impact Statement: A statement written by a victim that describes the impact and harm the victim has suffered as a result of the crime. The judge considers the statement when determining an appropriate sentence for the offender.


Witness: A person who testifies in Court because they have some information about the case.

Young offender: A young person between 12 to 17 years of age who has committed a criminal offence and who is dealt with under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Youth Court: The court that deals with criminal charges laid against young offenders.