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A glossary of common legal terms used in criminal law

A glossary of common legal terms used in criminal law

Legal terms for crimes can be really hard to understand at times, as it is often very technical and specialised terms used in the legal industry. Being able to understand legal terminology might be the first step when reading a legal document or preparing for a court appearance. 

Why is knowing legal terms in criminal law important?

If you are charged with a crime or an offence, whether or not you are guilty, it is important to know and understand legal terms for crimes to know what your rights are when they are presented to you and what your next steps should be. 

We would recommend contacting us if you find yourself charged with a crime or an offence. Each charge differs based on the severity of the crime and we can advise on how best to proceed forward. Our highly-trained team of criminal defence lawyers in Perth is here to help you with legal advice. 

Some common legal terms for crimes

We’ve compiled a short guide to assist you in familiarising yourself with legal terms for crimes that you may encounter. Below are some legal terms that you may find on our website or hear in legal proceedings that you should be aware of. Understanding these legal terms for crimes is important in identifying where you stand in the eye of the law. 


Accused – A person who has been arrested for / charged with committing a criminal offence or offences. Once an accused enters a plea of guilty, he or she is no longer an accused in a case.

Accessory – A person that is considered equally guilty in the criminal charge of another by aiding in or concealing the offence even if they were not present at the time of the event.

Accomplices – A person that intentionally, voluntarily gives assistance to another to commit a criminal offence.

Adjourn – A request made to the court to delay the court case to a later date. If approved the delay is called an adjournment.

Affidavit – A written document bearing proof for the court that has been signed in the presence of an authorised person (such as a lawyer or Justice of the Peace) and sworn or declared to be true.

Affirm – A statement or declaration that what is being said is true. This is done in place of swearing on the Bible, Koran, or another religious book.

Appeal – A process including a written statement in which the higher court is asked to review the conviction, sentence, or both of a specific person in a request to formally change a court order. 

Arraignment – Formal reading where the charges are listed before the court and the accused (now called a defendant) is asked to enter a plea. 


Bail – The request for an accused person to be released from custody in between the date of being charged and the eventual hearing of the court case.

Beyond reasonable doubt – The standard of proof required in criminal cases for a magistrate or jury to decide whether a person is guilty.


Charge – A formal accusation made by a governmental authority, such as law enforcement, stating their belief that a crime has been committed and a law has been broken.

Concurrent Sentence – The defendant serves all the sentences at the same time by court order.

Consecutive Sentence – The defendant has to finish serving the sentence for one offence before they start serving the sentence for any other offence.

Contest – A court hearing in which the parties disagree or where an accused person pleads not guilty.

Criminal Summons – When law enforcement charges the accused, they will present them with a summons. This informs them of their requirement to attend a court hearing to face the criminal charges. Please note that a summon is different from a court hearing notice. It is also different from ‘bail’ ‘.


Defence – A legal reason why the accused believes they are not guilty of the criminal offence they have been charged with within a criminal case.

Deferred Sentence – The court gives a defendant an opportunity to complete a probationary period before court proceedings (usually no longer than 2 years). After this time the court will review the defendant’s file and may dismiss the criminal charges.

Disclosure – Written statement, video records of an interview, and other evidence that the police officer has provided that the prosecutor will be using at court proceedings.


Indictable offences – Generally more serious criminal offences where the accused person has the right to have the matter determined in a high court. A ‘crime’ is an indictable offence. However, an offence may not be an ‘indictable offence’


Mediation (or Assisted Dispute Resolution) – Form of dispute resolution where an impartial third party helps communication and negotiations between the parties but does not decide the dispute.

Mention date – A court date where the magistrate will be informed of certain conditions of the criminal case. The magistrate will also speak with a specific person from the other party involved. If a court decision can not be made, a date may be set for further court proceedings.

Mention hearing – The first hearing where the accused person is asked if they are pleading guilty or not guilty to a criminal charge. If a guilty plea is made, the matter may be heard and decided at this hearing. 


Notice to appear –  A written document given when a governing authority such as law enforcement suspects a specific person of breaking the law. This document is a court order that informs the individual of a certain date to attend a court hearing.


Plea – The response given in the courtroom to the alleged criminal charge. The defendant can plead guilty or not guilty to the criminal offence.

Prosecutor – A government official (for example a police officer) or an agency worker that issued a prosecution notice or infringement notice. A prosecutor is also the Officer responsible for prosecuting the criminal case.


Sentence – The formal consequence associated with a conviction if the court finds the defendant guilty.

​​Sentencing indication – The magistrate gives an idea of what sentence the defendant would receive if found guilty of breaking a criminal law. Used to help the defendant decide if they want to keep pleading not guilty or change their plea to guilty.

Spent conviction order – A conviction for a minor criminal offence, spent convictions cannot be disclosed (show on police clearances), or taken into consideration for any purpose. For further information please refer to our spent conviction order blog. 

Statutory declaration – A document containing a written statement that acknowledges that if the statement is false, the person that stated it is liable to penalties for perjury (lying) and perverting the course of justice.

Subpoena – A document that states the requirement to appear in court or give certain documents to the court at the request of the opposing party.

Contact WN Legal today

If you require further assistance, contact WN Legal. Our team of specialist criminal defence lawyers in Perth can offer you the support you need in understanding legal terms for crimes and legal proceedings. 

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