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Commonly Used Courtroom Terms

Updated on January 6, 2013
Toronto Court House and  Osgoode Hall.
Toronto Court House and Osgoode Hall. | Source

Understanding the Canadian Superior Court Terminology

When faced with the prospect of filing a case in the courts, or defending oneself against criminal or civil charges it is always best to hire a good lawyer. Because of the high cost of court appearances and hiring a defence lawyer prudence and common sense dictate that we should avoid being involved in any expensive litigation cases.

For those who are interested in learning about the court terminology or want to understand the language used in open court, here are some court terms that may be useful and handy:

Indictable Offence – Serious offence resulting from a formal charge. It may carry a penalty ranging from a fine to life imprisonment.

Indictment – Formal written charge of a serious crime

Accused – The person charged with a crime

Acquittal – Finding someone not guilty

Adjournment – Postponement of a case to a specified date

Conditional Discharge – Occurs when the accused, after being found guilty, is discharged under certain conditions by the judge

Complainant – The victim of an alleged crime

Defendant – A person who is accused of an offence; a person defending or denying a claim

Election – The procedure by which an accused chooses to be tried by Judge and Jury, or by Judge alone or by a provincial Judge

Election by Crown – Procedure under which the Crown decides whether to prosecute a case as a summary conviction offence (less serious penalty) or as an indictable offence (more serious)

Judicial Interim Release – Court order granted by a Judge or Justice of the Peace releasing the accused from custody on his or her own bond or promise to appear

Plea – The answer of a defendant to a charge

Preliminary Hearing – A hearing before a Provincial Court Judge to decide whether or not there is enough evidence to commit the accused for trial

Probate – A legal document certifying the will of a dead person, also the process of proving a will

Probation – Court order which releases a convicted person under supervision and with direction to obey certain conditions

Recognizance – An accused is released on his or her own recognizance when the Judge or Justice of the Peace gives permission for the accused to be released on bail, subject to the conditions specified on the appropriate form

Registrar – Clerk of court or Court administrator

Serve/Service – To deliver, usually notice of an action

Sheriff – Representative of the court

Stay of proceedings – A suspension of court proceedings on a particular charge

Summary conviction offence – Less serious offence usually carrying a penalty of not more than 6 months imprisonment, or a maximum fine of $2,000 or both. Some legislation sets out other penalties

Summons – Legal document ordering the appearance in court of an accused person

Subpoena – A summons ordering a person to appear in court to testify or produce a document

Motions – Is when the attorneys try to submit or would like to submit particular information. I.e records of employment, school records of the accused

Mandamus – Order compelling the Judge of a Lower Court to correct error committed

Certiorari – An order by a higher court to a lower court to get the Record of Proceedings so the Higher Court can review the Lower Court Decision to see if there was an error

Habeas Corpus – An order that a Person Appear in Court to determine if they are being held in custody legally.


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  • MercuryNewsOnline profile image

    MercuryNewsOnline 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

    For those of you who would like to know more about Supreme Court decisions from any courts around the globe you may go to It is a free on line resource/research service by the Canadian Legal Information Institute.

  • MercuryNewsOnline profile image

    MercuryNewsOnline 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

    Thanks for reading my hub and for your comment.

  • triosol profile image

    triosol 7 years ago

    Very Informative hub. Thanks for sharing with us

  • MercuryNewsOnline profile image

    MercuryNewsOnline 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

    Thanks for letting me know Chris. It may come in handy in understanding legal court procedings more so when a lay person is called for jury duty.

    Best regards,


  • christalluna1124 profile image

    christalluna1124 8 years ago from Dallas Texas

    Great and informative article. After working in corrections and the court system for 25 years I am very familiar with the terminology but also feel the lay person should educate themselves with the terminology also.

    Warmest regards,


  • MercuryNewsOnline profile image

    MercuryNewsOnline 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

    Thanks for passing by Lynda and letting me know about the progress of your novels. If you need more legal info and research materials for your novels you may go to Hope this will give you more legal latitude.

  • lmmartin profile image

    lmmartin 8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

    Thanks once again. I'm in court often (in my novels) and appreciate your efforts to explain these terms. Up there on the shelf, along with the dictionary, thesaurus, punctuation and grammar guide, is Canadian Law Dictionary, and an American Legal Terms and Usage. Helps to get the terms right and know you haven't committed any howlers.