Legal Terms You Should Know

“The summum bonum of the aforesaid discussion is that all the aforesaid material which existed before the learned Executing Court standing slighted besides their impact standing untenably undermined by him whereupon the ensuing sequel therefrom is of the learned Executing Court while pronouncing its impugned rendition overlooking the relevant and germane evidence besides its not appreciating its worth. Consequently, the order impugned suffers from a gross absurdity and perversity of misappreciation of material on record.”

– Indian High Court Judge Himachal Pradesh

If you had no trouble reading and understanding the above quote, then this article isn’t for you. However, if you had to squint at the quote, read it several times over, back track, google one or two legal terms or gave up on it all together, then read on!

This quote perfectly represents the terrible, horrible, migraine worthy mess that is legal jargon. This phenomenon, termed “legalese”, is associated with traditional legal writing. It’s composed of specialised discourse that is difficult for the everyday person to understand. While there has thankfully been a movement away from legalese, this type of language is still prevalent throughout the legal profession.

At some point in our lives, all of us are faced with confusing legal terms, whether it’s an employment contract, lease, regulatory compliance requirement, legal dispute or other common arrangement or proceeding. In these circumstances, we are often left scratching our heads and can sometimes find ourselves agreeing to something we didn’t fully understand.

Therefore, we have put together a list of common legal terms and what they mean. We hope this list is of some assistance in understanding legal documents and proceedings.

Legal terms for different parties

Legal termsMeaning
PlaintiffSomeone who brings legal action against another person in a civil dispute.
DefendantSomeone who has either been charged criminally or has had civil legal action brought against them.
AppellantSomeone who appeals a decision to a higher authority.
RespondentParty that responds to an appeal to a higher authority.
LessorA landlord who issues a lease.
LesseeTennant or party that leases from the lessor.
TrusteePerson with powers and responsibility of holding property on trust for the beneficiary. The trustee has a legal obligation to only deal with the trust property for the benefit of the beneficiary(s).
BeneficiaryEither someone who is entitled to something under a will or a person who has property held by someone else in trust.
DebtorSomeone who owes a debt.
Joint tenantsTwo or more persons who own land collectively. For joint tenants, the property is owned in undivided shares. This arrangement is common for couples who own property together.
Tenants in commonWhere two or more persons own land in portions. In this scenario, each party can sell or transfer their share. In the instance of the death of a party, the interest is not transferred to the other party.
CreditorA person or entity that has given out funds and in return is owed a debt – such as a bank.

Common legal terms in court or similar proceedings

Legal termsMeaning
AdjournWhen a court hearing is referred to a later date.
Aggravating factorsCircumstances in a criminal matter that make the offence worse, such as if the offence was committed against a vulnerable party or by someone in a position of power or authority or against a police officer.
Mitigating factorsActions that reduce the severity of an act, such as genuine remorse, lack of prior record or mental incapacity.
Standard of proofAmount of evidence which must be provided to prove whatever has been alleged. In criminal proceedings, the standard of proof must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. In civil matters, the standard of proof is usually on the balance of probabilities.
Common lawCourt made law.  Essentially law established through previous judgement in cases of the same or similar nature.
AffirmationA pledge made by someone, such as a witness, that the information they provide is true and correct.
OathAn oath is the same as an affirmation, however, it is sworn over the bible or other legal text. Only people who hold religious beliefs make oaths, everyone else makes an affirmation.
Directions hearingWere parties attend court or a tribunal so that directions about how the matter will proceed can be given and a timetable for the provision of evidence and other documents can be made.
DiscoveryA legal process in civil court proceedings where parties require documents to be produced to each other.
SubpoenaA legal document that requires a third party to proceedings to appear at court to give evidence or to produce documents for a hearing.
HearsayHearsay evidence is any evidence that a party gives that they didn’t personally hear, see or experience for themselves. An example would be where a witness testifies about a conversation they had with someone where that person said they saw someone else commit an act. This type of evidence is generally not admissible in court (read more here).
Interim orderThis is a temporary order a court will make to prevent something happening or to put something in place for the meantime until a final decision is made.
JurisdictionEach court and tribunal will have the jurisdiction to hear certain types of matters. Depending on what your matter is about, how serious it is, or how much money is involved, will determine which court or tribunal has jurisdiction to hear your matter.
AffidavitA written statement which has been signed by the maker of the statement and witnessed by a qualified person (such as a justice of the peace or a solicitor). These documents must be factual and only contain information known to the writer.
PleadingsWritten statements by one party given to the other that address questions of fact and law.
QuashTo set an earlier judgement aside.
Without prejudiceThis is a common statement made during legal proceedings that means any statements will not affect the persons legal rights in any future legal action.
Prima facieMeans “on the face of it”. Essentially, this term means there is enough evidence to indicate legal action will be successful (read more here).

Legal terms can often make a matter seem unnecessarily complicated and stressful. Luckily, good lawyers are well versed in this type of language and will be able to explain what different terms mean and their effect. When things get confusing, its better to let your lawyer have the headache rather than trying to interpret complicated legal language on your own.

Need help with a legal matter? Looking for an experienced solicitor in Newcastle, Sydney or the Hunter to assist you? Call us on (02) 4929 7002, email us or complete an enquiry form.

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