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Absolute Discharge

An absolute discharge may occur where the accused is found guilty or has pleaded guilty, but is deemed not to have been convicted of the criminal offence and no punishment or restrictions are placed upon them by the judge. Such a discharge cannot be given if the offence carries a minimum punishment, or is punishable for 14 years or greater.


The accused is the person charged with a criminal offence. Also known as the Defendant.


An acquittal is a court finding of not guilty.


An act is a law that has been passed by the federal or provincial legislature.

Actus Reus

From the Latin, guilty act, actus reus (physical) refers to the actual doing of the criminal act which must co-exist with mens rea (mental) which refers to the intent to commit the act.


An adjournment is a temporary delay of court proceedings, often at the request of either Crown counsel or defence counsel, but at the discretion of the presiding judge.

Admissions of Fact

When an accused is on trial for an indictable offence, counsel for both the defence and Crown may agree upon a statement of facts, which are admitted into evidence. This procedure will often speed up the trial process by eliminating the need to call a witness.

Affirm The Truth

See affirmation.


To “affirm the truth” refers to when a witness promises to tell the truth to a court. In this case, no Bible or other Holy Book is used to secure the oath. It is very common for a witness to choose this option.


Alternative or extra-judicial measures are used most often for young offenders and provide an opportunity for a young person to avoid the formal justice system. They may include victim/offender reconciliation, community service, or payment of fines. Such programs are usually reserved for first time, non-violent offenders.

An Information

An information is the formal document charging criminal offences at the Provincial Court level. Also see Indictment.


An appeal is an application for judicial review of a lower court’s decision by a higher court. Either Crown counsel or defence counsel can appeal a decision, but there are specific legal requirements. Also see Appellant or Respondent.

Appearance Notice

An Appearance Notice is a document asking someone to go to Court. It may be given to the accused by the officer at the scene, when the accused has not been arrested, requiring the accused to appear before the Court on a certain date. It may also be given to a witness, asking them to come to court to testify in a trial.


The appellant is the party who has initiated an appeal to a higher court. In a criminal case this could be either Crown counsel or the accused. The other party is known as the Respondent.


A court appearance is scheduled in which the Crown or defence makes an application to the Court (e.g. application to vary bail conditions).


After all evidence is tendered at a trial, Crown and defence are entitled to make submissions ("argument") to the Court. In jury trials this is called the closing address to the jury, or simply "the closing." The term also refers to submissions by counsel on legal issues that arise in relation to any matter before the courts.

Arraignment Hearings

Arraignment hearings are held to set the date of a trial.

Arrest Without Warrant

Before a charge is laid, the police have the power to arrest. For most indictable offences, a police officer can arrest without warrant if the officer on reasonable grounds believes that the person has committed or is about to commit an indictable offence. For all other offences, an officer can only arrest if s/he finds the accused committing the offence, the public interest cannot be served without arresting the individual and/or has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the arrest is necessary to ensure that the accused will appear in court.


Bail is the financial or other security guarantee put up by the accused or by someone on the accused’s behalf as an assurance that the accused will appear on the date of his/her trial.

Bail Hearing

A bail hearing is the process by which an accused person is released on bail pending his / her trial. Also see Judicial Interim Release and Show Cause Hearing.

Balance of Probabilities

In civil cases, balance of probabilities is the probability that one side is correct. The judge and/or jury weigh the evidence from both parties and make a decision about where the balance lies. Also see Burden of Proof or Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

Ban on Publication

A publication ban is an order made by the Court that prohibits the publication or broadcasting of the name of the victim or information which could disclose the identity of the victim or a witness in certain offences (mostly sexual offences), and information taken at a preliminary inquiry, bail hearing or trial.

Bench Warrant

A bench warrant may be issued by a judge for the arrest of an accused person or a properly served material witness who has not appeared in court as required.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In criminal cases, the Crown has to meet a standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The Crown must show that the evidence is so complete and convincing that the judge/jury has no reasonable doubts regarding the guilt of the accused.

Burden of Proof

In criminal law, the burden of proof usually refers to the onus on the Crown to prove the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. The balance of probabilities is the burden of proof applicable to civil trials. Also see Balance of Probabilities and Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

Challenge for Cause

During jury selection, both the Crown and defence may make an unlimited number of challenges for cause. A challenge for cause is a challenge that must be proven on specific grounds, such as jury impartiality.

Change of Venue

If the court is satisfied that it is expedient to the ends of justice and/or an accused may not have a fair trial in the original venue (usually the courthouse nearest to where the alleged crime occurred), then upon application the Court may order that the trial be moved to another location. Often, pre-trial publicity will be advanced as a reason to change the venue.


The charge is the particular criminal offence alleged to have been committed by an accused which is contained on a sworn Information. The person remains charged with the offence until either conviction or acquittal or until the charges are stayed by Crown counsel.

Charge to The Jury

During a Supreme Court judge and jury trial, the charge to the jury is the instructions given to the jury by the judge which summarize the case and explain the law, enabling the jury to apply the law to the facts of the case.

Circumstances or Particulars

Circumstances or particulars are information about the alleged offence, which is contained in the Crown file and is disclosed to the defence and/or accused person (i.e. police narrative, witness statement). This is vetted to ensure no confidential material is disclosed.

Conditional Discharge

A conditional discharge occurs when person is found guilty or pleads guilty and the sentencing judge discharges (relieves) the person of the offence, subject to the person abiding by the conditions prescribed in a probation order. There will be no criminal conviction if the offender successfully completes probation.

Conditional Sentence

A conditional sentence is a sentence that is served by the offender in the community. The offender remains in the community under supervision, and is required to abide by a number of conditions.

Contitional Release

A police officer who arrests a person may release him/her from custody conditionally on the person's giving a promise to appear or entering into a recognizance. The recognizance may contain conditions limiting the accused's liberty and may require a cash deposit to ensure compliance. Also see Recognizance.


A conviction is registered when a person, charged with an offence, enters a guilty plea or is found guilty following a trial, and that person is not discharged. Also see Conditional Discharge.


The lawyers involved in the court proceedings.

Court Clerk

The assistant to the judge who swears in witnesses and supervises the exhibits during the trial.

Cross Examination

Both Crown counsel and defence counsel have the opportunity to question a witness called by the other side. This is a cross-examination.

Crown Counsel

Lawyers who work for the government. It is their job to present the Crown’s (or state’s) case. They are also known as prosecutors. In Canada, crimes are dealt with as wrongs against society as a whole and therefore, Crown counsel acts on behalf of all members of the public and do not represent the victim specifically.


Damages include monetary compensation for financial loss, property loss, emotional injuries, physical injuries, loss of earnings, and costs of care.

Dangerous Offender

A dangerous offender is an offender who has been convicted of a serious personal injury offence and the court has found him or her to be a danger to society. If the court finds an offender to be a dangerous offender, a jail sentence will be given for an indeterminate period of time.

Day Parole

Day parole is a type of early conditional release from jail. It may be available six months before full parole and allows the offender to participate in community-based activities during the day and return the institution by night.


A decision is the court hearing in which the judge will give his or her ruling about the guilt or innocence of the accused or the sentence to be imposed. Also, it may refer to a ruling on a legal issue or a question about evidence.

Defence Counsel

Defence counsel is the lawyer representing the person charged.


The defendant is the accused in a criminal case.

Detention Order

When a detention order is given, the accused is denied bail and remains in custody until the conclusion of the trial, subject to bail reviews in Supreme Court. A detention order may also contain conditions not to contact the victim, witnesses, or other named persons.

Direct Examination

The questioning by the lawyer who called the witness is called the direct examination. This may also be referred to as examination-in-chief.

Direct Indictment

Direct indictments are issued in some very serious cases. This means Crown counsel can, with the written consent of the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General of British Columbia, have the case go directly to the Supreme Court of British Columbia without a preliminary inquiry (Section 577 of the Criminal Code of Canada ( The length and the complexity of the case are factors in choosing to proceed by direct indictment. In such a case, all future court appearances will be held in the Supreme Court of BC.


Disclosure is the act of making the Crown's case known to defence by providing information on the evidence or circumstances of the case. The Crown must disclose, or share, with the accused all the relevant information gathered in the investigation so that the accused can fully defend him or herself against the charges.

Dual Procedure Offence

A dual procedure offence is a category of criminal offences where the Crown counsel has the choice to proceed by either summary conviction or indictment. Also see Summary Conviction and Indictment.


For most indictable offences (with the exception of a charge of murder and some offences which must be tried in Provincial Court), the accused is entitled to elect, or choose, how to be tried: by a Provincial Court judge, a Supreme Court judge, or a Supreme Court judge and jury. After the accused has elected his/her mode of trial, s/he may re-elect (i.e.: change his/her mind) subject to some legal restrictions set forth in the Criminal Code.


Evidence is the information presented by Counsel or defence. It includes the testimony of witnesses as well as objects and documents known as exhibits. Admissible Evidence is evidence that may be received by a trial Court to aid the judge or jury. Inadmissible Evidence is evidence that may not be received by a trial Court, generally because it is not allowed by some specific rule of exclusion.

Extra-Judicial Measures

See alternative.

Failure to Appear

Failure to appear is the term used when an accused does not attend a scheduled court appearance.


A fine is a sentence, or one aspect of a sentence, involving a monetary sum to be paid to the court.

First Appearance

A first appearance describes the first time the accused is asked to come to court.


“Guilty” refers to either a plea by the accused admitting responsibility or a decision by the Court that the accused did commit the offence for which she or he was charged (or a lesser but included offence).

Habeas Corpus

Habeas Corpus is an extraordinary remedy made by application to Supreme Court that challenges the validity of a person's detention in jail.

Hung Jury

A hung jury occurs when the jury is unable to reach a unanimous decision. In this case, no verdict is rendered and the Crown counsel office must decide whether or not to proceed with a new trial.

Hybrid Offence

The Criminal Code categorizes two types of offences, Indictable and Summary Conviction. Hybrid offences (sometimes known as dual offences) are those which Crown can proceed with under either category. The decision will be based on the seriousness of the circumstances, when the offence occurred, whether or not the accused has been previously convicted of a similar offence and the likely sentence to be incurred. Once the Crown decides and advises the Court, the offence is treated as the kind the Crown has chosen. See Indictable Offence and Summary Conviction Offence.

Indictable Offence

Indictable offences are a category of criminal offences that are usually more serious crimes and carry greater maximum sentences than summary offences. Because these offences may have a more significant consequence to the accused if convicted, the accused has a choice about what level of court will hear the trial. The accused can choose to have the trial held in Provincial Court before a Provincial Court judge. If that is the accused’s choice and the accused is found guilty, the potential maximum sentences are the same as if they were tried in a federal court. See Summary Conviction Offence and Hybrid Offence.


An information or indictment is a document that lists the criminal offences alleged to have been committed (also called counts) by the accused. A police statement can also be called a “laying of information”.


An indictment is the process of dealing with more serious (indictable) offences, allowing the accused to elect the mode of trial. In Supreme Court the document containing the formal list of charges is also called the "Indictment." Also see Information.

Initial Appearance

See first appearance.


See preliminary hearing.

Intermittent Sentence

An intermittent sentence allows the offender to serve his or her time of incarceration in intervals.


The “finder of fact” in a court case. S/he decides what happened as per the evidence presented, and decides how the law applies to the facts. S/he will then render a judgment.

Judicial Interim Release

A judicial interim release is a bail hearing for an accused in custody on new charges; the accused is to be released pending trial unless the Crown can "show cause" to detain. In some cases (i.e. murder) the burden is on the accused to "show cause" why release on bail should be granted. Also see Bail Hearing.

Judicial Review

An offender, who has been convicted of murder and has been sentenced to imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole for more than fifteen years, may apply for a reduction in the number of years of imprisonment through a judicial review. Offenders have to serve at least fifteen years of their sentence to be eligible. If the jury hearing the application reduces the period of parole ineligibility, the offender may then make an application for parole under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act at the end of that reduced period.

Judicial Stay of Proceedings

A judicial stay of proceeding occurs in rare circumstances when the Court terminates the proceeding prior to a finding of guilt. Also see Stay of Proceedings.


Jurisdiction refers to the power of an authority to hear and determine a case and also to the geographic area over which the Court has legal authority.


In criminal cases, juries are composed of twelve men and women who will listen to the evidence, follow the judge's instructions regarding how to apply the law, make findings of fact and decide whether the accused is “not guilty” or “guilty” beyond reasonable doubt.

Justice of the Peace

A Justice of the Peace is an officer of the court who has some of the powers of a judge.

Laying an Information

Laying an information is the formal means of laying a charge against an offender. The Criminal Code requires that a charge be brought in writing and under oath before a Justice of the Peace.

Legal Aid

Legal Aid offers legal services to those who cannot afford counsel. Legal Aid offers different kinds of help depending on your legal problem and where you live in Canada. Victims of sexual assault who may require legal representation under Section 278.3 of the Criminal Code can also access this service.

Long-Term Offender

An offender for whom there is a substantial risk of re-offending.

Mens Rea

From the Latin, guilty mind, mens rea indicates the intent to commit a criminal act. Mens rea (mental) must co-exist with actus reus (physical), the doing of the criminal act.

Synonyms: Actus Reus

A mistrial is a trial that ends without a final judgement, caused by a fundamental error. After a mistrial is declared, the trial must start again with the selection of a new jury if it is a jury case.

Not Guilty

“Not Guilty” is a plea made by an accused person to argue that they did not commit the crime. This plea places the burden on Crown to prove the accused's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Also the finding of a judge or jury following a trial in which Crown was unable to prove the accused's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


The term “offender” means a person who has been determined by a court to be guilty of an offence, whether on acceptance of a plea of guilty or on a finding of guilt. In an informal context it can also refer to a person who is suspected of committing a crime.


Parole is the early release of an offender from incarceration (jail) in which he or she serves the remainder of his or her sentence in the community under supervision and specific conditions.


Perjury occurs when a person gives evidence in court that he or she knows is false. As outlined in the Criminal Code, anyone who commits perjury is guilty of an indictable offence and may be liable to imprisonment for a term not more than fourteen years. Also see Perjury.


A person who commits an offense or crime.


A plea is the answer given by an accused when charged with a criminal offence. Also see Guilty and Not Guilty.

Plea Negotiation

Plea negotiation occurs when the Crown and the defence come to an agreement that the accused will plead guilty in exchange for a benefit such as reducing the charge against the accused or where the two sides agree upon a sentence.

Pre-Emptory Challenge

A pre-emptory challenge is a challenge made by the Crown or defence counsel to eliminate a potential juror during jury selection. Counsel can only make a limited number of pre-emptory challenges, for which no reason need be given.

Pre-Sentence Report

A pre-sentence report is a report prepared by a probation officer that the judge may use in determining a sentence for a person who pleads guilty or is found guilty. The pre-sentence report may include information regarding the accused's background such as their family, education and employment.

Pre-Trial Conference

A pre-trial conference is meeting between Crown and defence, in the presence of the trial judge to discuss the case before the trial begins.

Preliminary Hearing

A preliminary hearing is a court proceeding that is held before the trial to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed with the charges. During the preliminary hearing the Crown prosecutor can call witnesses to convince the judge that there is sufficient evidence against the accused to proceed with a trial. May also called a preliminary inquiry.


The presiding judge is the judge who has been selected to hear the case in question.


Probation is a sentence, or portion of a sentence in which the offender is released into the community under the supervision of a probation officer and must follow certain conditions such as being of good behaviour, abstaining from alcohol, not contacting the victim, etc.

Promise to Appear

The accused may be arrested and then released by a police officer after promising to appear in court on a specific date. The document signed by the accused is called a "Promise to Appear".

Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

It is the responsibility of Crown counsel to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before the court can convict. Therefore, after hearing all the evidence, if the court has reasonable doubt about whether the accused is guilty, the accused receives the benefit of that doubt and is acquitted. Also see Burden of Proof.


Prosecution is when legal proceedings are started against a person charged with a criminal offence.


Protocol is the formal procedure in an official or diplomatic society.

Provincial Court

Provincial Court is the first level in the BC court system, dealing with criminal, quasi- criminal (Provincial Statute Violations), family, youth, small claims, and traffic and municipal matters. This Court also conducts preliminary hearings.

Publication Ban

A publication ban is a Court order that prohibits the publication or broadcasting of trial information.


Questions asked by counsel who called the witness, after cross-examination by the other counsel. Re-examination happens if the cross-examination has brought out new facts, or if something was unclear in cross-examination.

Reasonable Doubt

A reasonable doubt is a doubt about someone’s guilt that a reasonable person might have, and for which they could give a reason.


Recognizance refers to a promise, made by an accused who is pending trial, to appear in court and answer to the criminal charges that have been brought against him/her.


Remand can mean that an offender is to be held in custody until the next court date. It can also mean to postpone a criminal proceeding to another date, like an adjournment.

Report to Crown Counsel

A report to Crown counsel is a document completed by a police officer that details the circumstances of an alleged crime. The report will contain the date and time of the incident, information about the victim and witnesses, the person accused of the crime, a written description of the circumstances surrounding the crime and witness statements, if any were obtained.


The respondent is the party, either Crown or defence, who is responding to the appeal initiated by the Appellant.


The Court may order the offender, on application of the Crown, or on its own, to pay monetary compensation (restitution) where loss, damage or injury has resulted from the offence to the victim.

Reverse Onus

In bail hearings, it is usually the responsibility of the Crown to "show cause" why an accused should be detained while awaiting trial. In very limited circumstances, this responsibility (onus) shifts to the accused and it is set forth in Section 515(6) of the Criminal Code. When section 515(6) applies, the accused must "show cause" why s/he should not be detained.


A sentence is the judgment (punishment), pronounced by the Court upon the accused, after a finding of guilt.

Sentence Hearing

A sentence hearing is the date is set to hear arguments by the Crown and defence to help the judge to sentence the offender.


The Sheriff’s responsibilities are to make sure the Courtroom is safe, and to look after witnesses, juries and prisoners.

Show Cause Hearing

A show cause hearing is when an accused person (or their lawyer) is required to convince the court that they should be released on bail pending a trial. Also see Judicial Interim Release and Bail Hearing.

Statutory Release

By law, most federal inmates are automatically released after serving two-thirds of their sentence. This is called statutory release.


A stay of proceedings might be called by Crown or the Court. This is when the charge is terminated at any time before there is a finding of guilt.

Stay of Proceedings as Directed by Crown

A stay of proceedings as directed by the Crown occurs when the Crown terminates the charge(s) prior to any judicial determination. This may occur at any time prior to a finding of guilt. Also see Judicial Stay of Proceedings.


A subpoena (pronounced sub-pena) is an official court document, which orders a witness to come to Court to give evidence. See Suboena.

Summary Conviction Offence

A summary conviction is generally considered for less serious offences. Many summary offences have a maximum jail sentence of six months and a maximum fine of $2,000.00. Tthe trial for summary offences is held in Provincial Court before a provincial court judge. See Hybrid Offence and Indictable Offence.


A summons sets out the charge as well as the time and place at which the accused is to appear in court. It is issued by a Justice of the Peace after an Information has been sworn, as a way to notify the accused of the charge and require his or her attendance to court on the date set forth in the summons.


Surety is the person who vouches for the accused while he or she is on bail awaiting trial or appeal. The surety will provide assets to the Court which they risk losing if the accused does not abide by his or her bail conditions or fails to attend Court.

Suspended Sentence

A suspended sentence can be given by the Court with directions that an offender be released under the conditions of a probation order. It may not be utilized for offences where a minimum term of imprisonment has been prescribed by Parliament.

Swear An Oath

To “swear an oath” refers to when a witness places his or her hand on top of a Bible or other Holy Book or sacred object and promises to tell the truth.

Temporary Absence

An escorted or unescorted temporary absence may be granted to incarcerated offenders in order for them to receive medical treatment; have contact with their family; undergo personal development and/or counselling; and participate in a community service work project. It may also be granted for compassionate reasons (e.g. a funeral).


Testimony is the evidence given by a witness who is under oath or affirmation.

Trier of Fact

In a criminal case, the trier of fact refers to the jury who listens to the evidence and decides on the guilt of the accused based on the facts of the case against him or her.


An undertaking is a promise to the court or to an official or given between lawyers. Recognizance is the procedure when a person is released from custody on the person’s own promise to come back to court whenever required to do so.

Synonyms: Undertaking

A verdict is the judge or jury's decision (or finding) of a case. In criminal cases, the verdict must be unanimous.


The victim is an individual who suffers physical or mental injury, or economic loss as a result of a crime. Primary victims are those who were the direct victim of a crime. Secondary victims may have been victimized by some association with the crime, but not as a direct target.

Victim Impact Statement

A Victim Impact Statement is a written account of the personal harm suffered by a victim of crime. In some cases, the statement may be read by the victim in person or on video. The statement may include a description of the physical, financial and emotional effects of the crime. Where victim impact information has been presented, it must be taken into consideration by the judge or parole board.

Victim Surcharge

A victim surcharge is a monetary penalty imposed on offenders, in addition to any other punishment imposed, at the time of sentencing. It is collected by the provincial and territorial governments, and the revenue is used to provide programs, services and assistance to victims of crime within their jurisdictions. It is not paid directly to the victim of the specific crime.

Voir Dire

A voir dire is a trial within a trial. It is a hearing held, without the presence of the jury, to determine whether an issue of fact or law would be admissible. For example, a voir dire may be used in order to decide whether certain aspects of an expert witness’ testimony will be allowed.


After an information has been sworn, a Justice of the Peace can issue a warrant for the arrest of the accused. The Justice of the Peace must have reasonable grounds to believe that the arrest is in the public interest. An endorsed warrant has been signed by a Justice of the Peace and a person arrested on such a warrant can be released from custody by the police. An unendorsed warrant has not been signed by a Justice of the Peace, indicating to the police that the person arrested is to be held for court.

Synonyms: Promise, Summons

Witnesses are persons who testify in court because they have some information about the case. A witness may volunteer to testify or may receive a subpoena (a legal document which orders him/her to come to court at a certain time to testify). Usually a witness is only permitted to be in the courtroom to hear the testimony of other witnesses once his or her own testimony has been completed. This is to ensure that one witness is not influenced (affected) by what another witness says in court.

Witness Notifier

The person who works for Crown counsel whose job it is to ensure witnesses know the trial date. He or she can give the witness general information about Court procedure.

Work Release

Work release is a correctional program that enables inmates to leave the correctional facility to work during the day and return to the facility at night.

Young Offender

In Canada, those aged twelve to seventeen are considered youths under criminal law, and fall within the scope of the Young Offenders Act (YOA).

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