Criminal Court Terminology in Canada
Absolute Discharge – This is when a person has been found guilty of an offence but no conviction is registered on their criminal record. It is a finding of guilty without the consequence of a criminal record.
Acquittal – An acquittal is a Judgment by a judge or a jury that the defendant is not guilty of a crime as charged. It is a finding of “not guilty” in a criminal case.
Affidavit – A written statement of facts that are sworn to be true. An affidavit was must signed in the presence of lawyer or commissioner of oaths to be valid.
Arrest – An arrest is the act of taking or keeping of a person in custody by legal authority, usually in response to a criminal charge. It is important to note that not everyone charged with a criminal offence will be arrested.
Attorney General – The principal law officer of “the Crown”; the Minister of the provincial or federal government responsible for the administration of justice.
Bail – A commonly used term for a Recognizance of Bail. When a person is not released by the arresting officer, the person must be taken before a judicial officer to determine whether the person should remain in custody pending trial. The term “bail” is often used to refer to the money paid as security for the person showing up the next time he or she is required to appear in court.
Bail Hearing – A hearing to determine if a person that has been arrested and is in custody can be released on bail or whether that person should remain in custody until trial. Also referred to as a Show Cause Hearing.
Bar – Has several means, it is a term that is generally used to describe the legal profession as a whole. But in a courtroom it is the physical barrier that separates the judge’s bench and the front row of lawyers’ seats from the public area of the court.
Barrister – Popularly used to mean lawyers who appear in court to argue cases. In Canada (except Quebec), all lawyers are barristers and solicitors. In England and other countries, historically barristers attended court while solicitors did not.
Bench Warrant – An order issued by a judge to a police officer for the arrest of a person who has failed to appear, or remain in attendance, at a hearing or trial. Bench warrants are a form of arrest warrants.
Charge – In criminal law, the underlying substantive offence contained in an Information or Indictment.
Crown Attorney – The lawyer appointed by the Attorney-General that will take charge of and conducted the prosecution on behalf of the Crown.
Conditional Sentence Order (CSO) – After a person is convicted a condition sentence in some cases is possible alternative to serving a jail sentence. The defendant is order to serve their sentence in the community with conditions that often include House Arrest, Curfew, and Electronic Monitoring.
CPIC – Is the acronym used for “Canadian Police Information Centre” which is a computer database used by police agencies for investigation purposes.
Dangerous Offender – A person who is convicted of a serious personal injury offence, or serious sexual related offences, as defined in the Criminal Code of Canada, and who, after an assessment, is found by a court to be at high risk to re-offend and whose risk cannot be managed in the community. Dangerous offenders can be sentenced to a detention in a federal prison for an indefinite period. (see also Long-term Offender)
Discharges – After a person has been found guilty, either after trial or after pleading guilty, a Discharge is a sentencing option that would allow a person not to be burdened with a criminal record. The result of a discharge is that the offender has no criminal record after a finding of guilt. An Absolute Discharge is a finding of guilt but no conviction is not entered against the accused and any information or record relating to that offence cannot be disclosed after one year from the date of the discharge order. A Conditional Discharge is a finding of guilt by no conviction is entered against the accused if certain conditions that are imposed are met. Any information or record relating to the offence cannot be disclosed after three years from the date of the discharge order, as long as all the conditions are met.
Disclosure – In the context of criminal cases, it is the making of evidence gathered by the police available to the accused person. Disclosure generally encompasses witness statements, the notes of the police officers involved in the investigation, any photographs, video surveillance, or documents. Every person charged with a criminal offence is entitled to receive disclosure in a timely fashion. Depending on the nature of the allegations and complexities of the police investigation the process of providing disclosure may take many months.
Discretionary Bench Warrant – In circumstances where a person does not appear in court, the court may extend a courtesy by issuing a bench warrant “with discretion”. The matter is adjourned to a future date and, if the person appears at that time, the warrant is cancelled.
Estreatment – An Estreatment Hearing or sometimes referred to as a Default Hearing is when the Crown seeks to have a person’s bail (recognizance) forfeited. In criminal cases, this happens when an accused has breached the terms of their bail. Often after an accused has been found guilty of failing to comply with a condition of their bail the Crown will seek to have the funds pledged by their sureties forfeited.
Factum – A document in a court case in which a party sets out a concise argument, stating the facts and laws relied on.
Indictable Offence – These are offences that typically have more consequences for an accused person. Typically longer jail sentences, more serious probation conditions, and often higher fines than are associated with summary offences. When the Crown elects to proceed by indictment against an accused person that person is entitled to a preliminary hearing and to be tried by a jury.
Information – Often referred to as the Court Information contains a list of charges faced by the defendant and information regarding on how those charges were disposed of. The information will describe the charges in ordinary language. The information is a document that has been substantiated under oath by an officer of the court.
Judicial Pre-trial – These pre-trial meetings are conducted between the Crown, Defence Counsel, and a Judge. The purpose of these meetings are to discuss important issues related to the case. Typically a Judge will provide their opinions or recommendations on how the matter may be resolved prior to proceeding to trial or how the central issues related to the trial ought to be handled. These discussion are informal and any recommendations made by the Judge are not binding on the either party.
Long-term Offender – A person who is convicted of certain criminal offences and, after an assessment, the court finds that the risk of the person re-offending is high but can eventually be controlled in the community. Long-term offenders must serve their sentence of imprisonment (a minimum of two years) and are then, after serving their sentence, supervised in the community for a period not exceeding ten years.
Pre-Enquete Hearing – A proceeding before a justice of the peace to determine whether an Information should be laid against a person at the private complaint of another person. The process of one person charging another with a criminal offence without the assistance of police.
Preliminary Inquiry or Preliminary Hearing – This is a hearing conducted in the provincial court to determine whether the Crown has sufficient evidence for a trial of the accused. It is an opportunity to hear the details of the Crown’s case. At the conclusion of the inquiry, the accused will either be discharged or ordered to stand trial.
Pre-Sentence Report – A report prepared before sentencing an offender. It contains information about the offender’s history that is used in assisting the court in passing sentence.
Provincial Offences Act (POA) – Provincial statute that sets out procedures for the prosecution of offences under other provincial statutes and regulations and municipal by-laws. Under a Memorandum of Understanding, municipalities are responsible for the administration of courts hearing Provincial Offences Act (POA) matters and the prosecution of certain POA cases.
Recognizance – A court order that sets out the terms under which a person will be released on bail or on a peace bond (either a Common Law Peace Bond or an 810 Peace Bond) and when he or she is expected to return to appear before the court.
Remand – To adjourn a hearing to a future date, most often used in criminal cases when the accused is in custody.
Search Warrant – An order issued by a justice under statutory powers, authorizing a named person to enter a specified place to search for and seize specified property which will provide evidence of the actual or intended commission of an offence.
Sine Die – Latin term, meaning “without a day”. Used to describe an indefinite adjournment of a proceeding.
Solicitor-Client Privilege – The confidentiality of communications between a lawyer and client where they relate to seeking, forming, or giving legal advice.
Stay of Proceedings – An Order by the Court that suspends a legal proceeding or trial.
Subpoena – This is a Court Order that compels a person to attend Court. If properly served with a subpoena that person must attend court or could be subject to arrest and detention by police.
Summary Offence – These are offences tried by a Judge in the Ontario Court of Justice and have lower terms of imprisonment and fines issued upon conviction. These are typically not as serious are Indictable Offences.
Surety – Is a person that has been accepted by the Court to act as a supervisor for an accused person on bail. This person, usually a family member or close friend, is responsible to ensure that an accused person abides by all the terms of their release. Failure to adequately supervise a person on bail could result in the surety forfeiting the money the pledged to the court. See Estreatment.
Transcript – A record of oral testimony in a legal proceeding that was taken by a court reporter.
Trial – A trial is the hearing of a legal issue by a court to determine whether a person is guilty or not guilty. Trials tend to involve testimony from witnesses.
Victim Impact Statement – Is a written statement prepared by victim(s) describing the impact of the offence on their life. Any victims that provide an victim impact statement may, of they choose, to read that statement in court during the sentencing hearing of an accused person.
Voir Dire – Is a procedure to determine the admissibility of certain evidence in advance of the evidence being admitted. It is often referred to as a trial within a trial.
Withdrawal – Is the discontinuing or abandoning a case or part of a case. A Crown may withdraw some charges against an accused and choose to proceed to trial on the remaining charges.
Witness – Anyone who in the process of a criminal trial provided evidence to assist a party or the court. A Compellable Witness is a witness who may be required by law to give evidence. An Expert Witness is a person who, through education or experience, has developed skill or knowledge on a particular subject, so that he or she may form an opinion that will assist the trier of fact. And a Material Witness is a person who has significant information to affect the outcome of a case.