Criminal Law Jargon Buster

Adjournment

A temporary postponement of legal proceedings.

Advocate

Lawyer appearing in a court of law.

Aggravating

Factors making a situation worse. For example, burglary is aggravated in the eyes of a court if the burglar is armed, or injures someone while committing the offence.

Alibi

A defence that someone accused of a crime was not there at the time and could not have committed the offence.

Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBO)

These are court orders which prohibit specific anti-social behaviours. An ASBO is issued for a minimum of two years, and can ban an offender from visiting certain areas, mixing with certain people or carrying on the offending behaviour. Despite being issued by a court, an ASBO is a civil order, not a criminal penalty - this means it won't appear on an individual's criminal record. However, breaching an ASBO is a criminal offence punishable by a fine or up to five years in prison.

Appeal

A formal request to a higher court that the verdict or ruling of a court be changed.

Bail

Release of a defendant from custody until their next appearance in court. This can be subject to security being given and/or compliance with certain conditions, such as a curfew.

Barrister

A barrister is a legal practitioner in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The name comes from the process of being called to the Bar during their training. Barristers represent individuals in court, and provide them with specialist legal advice. Members of the public may now approach a barrister direct in certain circumstances.

Bound over

Being placed under a legal obligation, for example being "bound over" to keep the peace. Failure to observe a binding order may result in a penalty.

Case Law

The body of law created by judges' decisions on individual cases.

Central Criminal Court

Known as the Old Bailey after the street in London in which it is situated, the Central Criminal Court deals with major criminal cases in the Greater London area and in exceptional cases from the rest of England.

Chambers

This has two meanings: a private room or courtroom from which the public are excluded, in which a judge may conduct certain sorts of hearings, for example family cases; or offices used by a barrister.

Circuit Judge (CJ)

A judge who normally sits in the county court and/or Crown Court.

Community Order

A non-custodial order of the court which normally is combined with an element of additional punishment like a curfew or unpaid work. This is often imposed as an alternative to prison in cases of more minor offending.

Court of Appeal (CA)

The Court of Appeal is based at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, but has occasional sittings elsewhere in England and Wales. It consists of a Civil Division and a Criminal Division, which between them hear appeals in a wide range of cases covering civil, family and criminal justice. In some cases a further appeal lies, with leave, to the Supreme Court, but in practice the Court of Appeal is the final court of appeal for the great majority of cases.

Criminal Justice System Online

If you have come into contact with the criminal justice system as a victim of crime, a witness, juror or you have been accused or convicted of a crime then this site can help.

Crown Court

The Crown Court deals with more serious criminal cases such as murder, rape or robbery, some of which are on appeal or referred from magistrates' courts. Trials are heard by a judge and a 12 person jury.

Crown Prosecution Service

In England and Wales an independent prosecuting body, established in 1986, that decides whether cases brought by the police should go to the courts. It headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions Compare and is often abbreviated to CPS.

Curfew

A legal order confining someone to their home, sometimes for set times of the day.

Custodial sentence - Where an offender is confined to a prison or young offenders' institution for a set period of time.

Defendant

A person who appears in court because they are being sued, standing trial or appearing for sentence.

Disclosure

A three-tiered system in criminal proceedings which ensures vital information on both sides of a court case can be seen by all parties: 

  1. Primary disclosure is the duty of the prosecutor to disclose material to the defence which undermines the case against the accused. Primary disclosure is triggered where the accused faces trial in a magistrates' court and pleads not guilty, or the case is transferred for trial by jury; 
  2. A defence statement sets out the general nature of the defence, indicating matters on which the accused takes issues with the prosecution and why. A defence statement is compulsory for an accused facing trial by jury, and is optional for an accused facing a summary trial; 
  3. Secondary disclosure takes place as soon as possible after receiving a defence statement, and provides details of any information which had not previously been disclosed and which might reasonably be expected to assist the accused's defence as set out in the defence statement. In civil proceedings, all relevant documents have to be disclosed unless they are governed by privilege (see privilege below).

District Judge (Magistrates' Courts) (DJ MC)

Known as stipendiary magistrates before 2000, district judges are full-time members of the judiciary and deal with a broad range of cases appearing before magistrates' courts - especially the lengthier and more complex criminal cases and care cases relating to children. They may sit with lay magistrates or alone.

Embezzlement

Dishonestly appropriating another's assets for one's own use

Fraud

An act or instance of deception

Hearing

Proceedings held before a court.

In Camera

The vast majority of hearings in England and Wales are held in open court, with members of the public free to enter the courtroom and observe proceedings. Some sensitive cases, such as family matters, may be held "in camera", which means 'in the chamber' or in private.

Judiciary

Collective term for the judges, magistrates and tribunal members who deal with legal matters in England and Wales and, in the case of some tribunals, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Jury

A body of citizens, normally twelve people, who are sworn in by the judge and asked to give a verdict on a case in a court of law.

Justice of the Peace (JP)

The official title of a magistrate. Charged with defending the peace of the area they deal with minor criminal matters and misdemeanours and preside in only the lowest courts

Law Commission

Independent body set up by Parliament to review and recommend reform of the law in England and Wales.

Lawyer

General term for someone practising law, such as a solicitor or barrister.

Magistrate

Magistrates are members of the public who voluntarily give up their time to preside over magistrates' courts. They need have no formal legal qualifications, although they are trained in court procedures.

Magistrates' Court

The magistrates’ courts are a key part of the criminal justice system – virtually all criminal cases start in a magistrates’ court and over 95% of cases are also completed here. In addition, magistrates’ courts deal with many civil cases, mostly family matters plus liquor licensing and betting and gaming work. Cases in the magistrates’ courts are usually heard by panels of three magistrates (Justices of the Peace), of which there are around 30 000 in England and Wales.

Mitigating

Arguments made on behalf of a defendant who has admitted or been found guilty of an offence, in order to excuse or partly excuse the offence committed and attempt to minimise the sentence.

Open Court

The vast majority of hearings in England and Wales are held in open court, with members of the public free to enter the courtroom and observe proceedings. Some sensitive cases, such as family matters, may be held "in camera", which means 'in the chamber' or in private.

Plea and Case Management Hearings

A preliminary hearing, before a judge at a Crown Court, where the accused may indicate whether or not they plan to plead guilty and have the chance to argue that there is insufficient evidence for the case to go before a jury. Directions are also given on matters such as what evidence will be admitted.

Pre-Sentence Report

Report normally prepared by the Probation Service concerning a defendant’s background. Often used to assist the court when considering sentence.

Pre-Trial Hearing

A short court hearing at which a judge considers how ready all parties in a case may be for the trial and fixes a timetable where necessary.

Privilege

The right of a party to refuse to disclose a document or produce a document or to refuse to answer questions on the ground of some special interest recognised by law.

Probation Service

Service with responsibility for working with and administering non- custodial sentences, see also community order/ suspended sentence order

Prosecution

The beginning or conduct of criminal proceedings against a person.

Queen's Counsel (QC)

Barristers and solicitors with sufficient experience and knowledge can apply to become Queen's Counsel. QCs undertake work of an important nature and are referred to as 'silks', a name derived from the black court gown that is worn. QCs will, of course, be known as King's Counsel if a king assumes the throne.

Recorder

A Recordership appointment, which carries almost the same powers as a circuit judge, is made by The Queen, and lasts for five years. Recorders generally sit for between four and six weeks a year, and normally spend the rest of the time in private practice as barristers or solicitors.

Senior District Judge (Chief Magistrate)

The Chief Magistrate is responsible for: hearing many of the sensitive, long or complex cases in the magistrates’ courts and in particular extradition and special jurisdiction cases; supporting and guiding District Judge (Magistrates’ Court) colleagues; liaising with the senior judiciary and Presiding Judges on matters relating on Magistrates’ Courts and District Judges (Magistrates’ Court)

Sentencing Council

An independent body consisting of a Chairman, seven judges and six non-judicial members who develop sentencing guidelines and monitor the application of the guidelines by judges in court

Solicitor

A solicitor is a lawyer who provides clients with expert legal advice and assistance and prepares legal documents. He or she might work in a law firm or in central or local government, or an in-house legal department, for example, a bank or corporation.

Statutory Law

A law that has been passed by an Act of Parliament.

Summary Trial

Trial taking place in a Magistrates' court.

Suspended Sentence

A custodial sentence, but one which will not result in time spent in custody unless another offence is committed within a specified period.

The Bar

Barristers are "called to the Bar" when they have finished their training, and as a result are then allowed to represent clients. The Bar is also a collective term for all barristers, represented by the General Council of the Bar.

The Bench

Judges or magistrates sitting in court are collectively known as "the Bench".

The Crown

The institution of the monarchy, or the historical power of the monarchy, usually exercised today through government and courts. It is the Crown which brings all criminal cases to court, via the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Crown Court

The Crown Court deals with all crime committed for trial by magistrates' courts. Cases for trial are heard before a judge and jury. The Crown Court also acts as an appeal court for cases heard and dealt with by magistrates.

Upheld

Where an appeal against a judicial decision ends with the original ruling being maintained.

Vice Chancellor (VC)

The Chancellor of the High Court - known as the Vice Chancellor prior to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 - is the president of the Chancery Division of the High Court and vice-president of the Court of Protection.

Youth Justice Board (YJB)

The Youth Justice Board for England and Wales oversees the youth justice system and works to prevent offending and reoffending by children and young people under the age of 18, to ensure that custody for them is safe, secure, and to address the causes of their offending behaviour.