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Glossary of definitions

When you are navigating a legal process it might feel like people are speaking a whole new language. Below are some definitions of commonly used legal terms that you might come across.

Whether you are talking to a Legal Support Navigator, reporting to the police, meeting with a lawyer, or testifying in court – it is okay to ask questions if someone is using language you are not familiar with! If you do not understand something someone is saying, ask them to explain it differently! You can also reach out to the Journey Project for help.

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As close to an absolute certainty as possible. There must be no other logical explanation except that the defendant committed the crime.
A person charged with committing a criminal offence.
The decision that a person accused of a crime is found not guilty. Once acquitted, a person cannot be tried again for the same offence.
An unproven accusation. This includes a criminal charge that has not yet been proved in court. Lawyers and the courts use this term because accused people have the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty in court. Use of this word does not mean that the lawyer does not believe you.
To have a trial decision reviewed by a higher Court. This is not a new trial and no witnesses are required to give evidence.
This is often the first court appearance for an accused person following an arrest. The accused is read the charge(s) against them and will either plead guilty or not guilty.
An intentional use of force by one person against another person, or an attempted or threatened use of force. There may or may not be injuries.
The burden of proof is on the Crown. This means that the Crown must prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A defendant doesn’t have to prove their innocence.
The system for legal cases that involve settling disputes between private individuals, or a claim between a person and government, business, etc. This can include suing another person, disputing a contract, settling issues related to a separation or divorce, or many other issues and cases.
The term often used by police or the courts to refer to a person who has made a complaint about a criminal incident to police. The complaint may or may not lead to criminal charges against an accused person.
When a lawyer is working for two clients with competing interests.
A voluntary agreement, given willingly, to a specific sexual act, at a specific time. The person giving consent fully understands what is happening, is old enough to consent, and is mentally capable of giving consent. The law requires that a person take reasonable steps to find out whether the other person is consenting. The age of consent to sexual activity in Canada is 16. In some situations, a person must be 18 years old to consent to sexual activity (if the other person has a relationship of trust or authority over them, if it involves exploitative activity, if they are dependent on the other person, etc.).
When the government believes a person has committed a crime, it brings the person to Criminal Court for trial. In Newfoundland and Labrador, Criminal Court may be either at the Provincial Court or the Supreme Court, General Division.
After one side is finished, the other can ask questions. These can be leading, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions that are meant to poke holes in the witness’s story.
A Crown Attorney, sometimes called a prosecutor, is a lawyer that works for the Government. They represent the best interest of the public and are responsible for making sure that the criminal justice process is fair to everyone involved, including the accused, the complainant and the public. They do not represent or work for the survivor in a criminal matter. A survivor does not get their own lawyer. A survivor can hire a lawyer for support and guidance, but they cannot represent you at most court hearings.
An award of money ordered by the court to compensate a person for injury, loss, or damage suffered because of another’s act.
A defence lawyer is a lawyer who represents a person charged with a criminal offence. It is the defence lawyer’s job to ensure that the rights of the accused are protected throughout the criminal process
If one side calls a witness, they can only ask direct, or non-leading questions. However, the other side has the opportunity to cross-examine the witness.
An accused person may be “discharged” by the judge following a preliminary hearing. This means that the judge has determined that there is insufficient evidence to send the case to trial. If the accused is discharged on all counts, then the matter will be completed.
A copy of the evidence that the Crown and police have collected. This package of evidence is given to the accused and their lawyer so that they can see the full evidence being presented against them.
An emergency document issued by Provincial Court that a judge can grant quickly when family violence has occurred. Commonly referred to as an EPO, this order is temporary, with a maximum duration of 90 days. An EPO can place restrictions on the respondent (person you are requiring protection from).
Evidence in a criminal trial can include witness testimony, physical evidence, photographic evidence.
Stalking, following, or doing certain other things that frighten or intimidate a person and make them fear for their safety. Sexual harassment can include any unwanted conduct, behaviour, action, or words of a sexual nature.
These are the types of offences where the Crown can choose to proceed by either summary conviction or indictment. These types of offences cover the majority of Criminal Code offences including assault and sexual assault.
These are more serious offences of the Criminal Code, typically carrying a higher maximum sentence. Certain types of sexual assault are indictable offences.
A photo, video, or recording of a person who is nude, semi-nude, or engaged in sexual activity.
There is potential for lawsuits about sexual harassment, but it can be tricky (not necessarily able to sue a person due to sexual harassment, for example, but could be potential for suing related to other things, such as constructive dismissal from a job).
A time period set by law that states how long a person has to start a legal action or exercise a legal right. Except in rare circumstances, if the limitation period has ended, the person will no longer have the right to start a legal action or bring a case to the courts. Depending on the nature of the case, there may be a limit on when a civil lawsuit can be started.
Another word for legal proceedings or a lawsuit.
Migrant domestic workers have ‘limited escape or recourse when facing sexual harassment as they are live-in workers and rely on the sponsorship of their employer to remain in the country. This also demonstrates the difficulty of dealing with sexual harassment for domestic workers, where there is no formal mechanism for their complaints’.
  • Welsh, S., Carr, J., MacQuarrie, B., & Huntley, A. (2006). “I’m Not Thinking of It as Sexual Harassment” Understanding Harassment across Race and Citizenship. Gender & Society, 20(1), 87-107.
A common name for the application for ‘disclosure of third-party records.’
A person who has been charged with committing a criminal offence.
A court order that places specified conditions on an individual’s behaviour. Anyone who fears for their safety can make an application.
Bodily fluids and other DNA-producing evidence which may be used to prove the identity of the accused. Physical evidence may be used to prove a sexual act took place. The purpose of the physical evidence will depend upon the issue of trial.
The accused’s formal statement of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’.
Before a trial the Crown and defence lawyer can engage in plea negotiations, whereby in exchange for a guilty plea, the Crown may drop or reduce some of the charges against the accused.
An earlier case that provides a guideline or rule to judges for deciding a later case.
A hearing to decide if there is enough evidence to have a trial.
Section 276(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada restricts the admissibility of evidence that the complainant has engaged in sexual activity, whether with the accused or with any other person.
Sentencing refers to punishment for a criminal offence. It may take place right after an offender has pled guilty or been found guilty, or it may occur at a sentencing hearing.
When people in a dispute come to an agreement themselves (often with the help of a lawyer) on how to resolve the claims without going to court.
An assault of a sexual nature (see definition for assault).
A SAEK is used to collect forensic evidence after a sexual assault. A healthcare professional may collect samples from anywhere on your body that the offender may have touched during the assault. Clothing and undergarments may be collected as evidence. SAEKs can be completed at many different points in time, however there is a greater chance of collecting physical evidence within 72 hours of the assault.
A SANE is a health care professional who has advanced training and education in medical and forensic assessment of a person who has been sexually assaulted. A SANE aims to provide options and choices about medical care and/or police reporting, provide medications to prevent infection and pregnancy, and connect patients with counselling services so they have appropriate support in moving forward if they choose to.
A non-legal term that is used to describe any violence, including physical or psychological violence, that is carried out through sexual means or by targeting sexuality. Each survivor will interpret sexual violence differently based on their own personal and unique experience. It includes any act that happens without consent of a person, including physical or psychological violence, carried out through sexual means, of a sexual nature, or by targeting sexuality.
An account of the events that occurred. It may be provided in writing, audio or video recording. It may be used as evidence in court.
Also called ‘Summons to Witness’, a subpoena is a court order requiring a witness to come to court.
These are less serious offences under the Criminal Code. Charges must be laid within 6 months. For most summary conviction offences, there is a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a fine of $5,000 or both.
The term survivor and victim are both often used when talking about sexual violence. You may or may not identify with this term, depending on the impact of your experience and where you are in your healing process.
Supports that make it easier for survivors and/or witness to testify in court.
A form of evidence that may be oral or written. When you provide testimony, this is your opportunity to tell the court what happened.
A document with personal information for which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. Some examples include notes taken by a counsellor, therapist, psychologist or doctor; hospital records; records from an employer or school; the survivor’s personal journals. The accused can ask for the record by submitting an application to the judge, see O’Connor application.
The person who suffers from a crime or other wrongdoing. Similar to the word survivor, you may or may not identify with this term.
A victim impact statement is your chance to tell the judge, Crown attorney, defense counsel and accused, in your own words, how the crime has affected or is still affecting you. The judge is required by law to consider your victim impact statement, if you provide one, before sentencing the accused. It is important to note that Victim Impact Statements may be accessed by the media.
The use of this evidence is rare but becoming more common. There have been cases built on video taken by the accused.
Someone who has relevant information about a crime. Their statement may be used as evidence in court, they may have to appear in court to provide testimony.