Glossary of Criminal Justice Terms

An alphabetical list of words used in British Columbia's criminal justice system along with their definitions.

A / B / C / D / E / F / G / H / I / J / L / M / N / O / P / R / S / T / U / V / W / Y

A

Aboriginal People

A collective name for the Indigenous people of Canada, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit people. 

Absolute Discharge

When a person is found guilty or pleads guilty but the judge decides not to sentence them. The person has no criminal record.    

Access Period

The time period when a youth record is open, which means it exists and has not been sealed or destroyed.

Accusation

The claim that a person has committed a crime

Accused

Someone who is suspected of or has been charged with committing a crime.

Acquittal

When the court finds the accused not guilty of committing the crime. The accused is free to go.

Act

A law passed by the federal parliament or provincial legislature.

Adjournment

A stop or delay in a court proceeding, usually to reschedule the hearing to another day.

Affirm

When a witness promises to tell the truth in court without reference to religion.

Age of Consent

The age at which someone can legally consent to sexual activity. The age of consent is 16 (except for young people who are close in age or married). 

Allegation

A formal accusation of wrongdoing against someone that is not yet proven to be true.

Allege

To say something that has not yet been proven to be true.

Alleged

Something that has not yet been proven to be true.

Alternative Measure

Instead of going to court, police or Crown might provide an accused charged with a less serious crime an opportunity to accept personal responsibility for their behaviour by agreeing to make amends to the victim and the community. For example, an apology and/or compensation for the loss or damage.

Anonymous / Anonymously

Without giving your name or indicating who you are.

Appeals

When either the accused or their defence counsel (lawyer) or Crown counsel ask a higher court to review the decision of a lower court because they believe there has been a serious error.

Appearance Notice

An official notice telling an accused person they must appear in court at a specific time and place to respond to a criminal charge.  If the accused does not come to court when the document requires, a warrant may be issued for their arrest and they could be charged with another offence (failing to appear).  An accused may receive an appearance notice if the crime is less serious (such as theft under $5000). Usually a police officer gives the accused the appearance notice. 

Arraignment

A court hearing where the accused or their defence counsel (lawyer) tells the court if the accused will plead guilty or not guilty.  If the accused person pleads not guilty a trial date will be set.  If the accused pleads guilty the case will not go to trial and the accused will be sentenced by the court. (Also see Consent Arraignment.)

Articling

A part of the lawyer training and licensing process where a law school graduate gets practical experience by working in a legal setting.

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B

Bail Hearing

A court hearing where a judge decides if an accused will be released from custody while awaiting their trial or appeal. May also be referred to as a show cause hearing or judicial interim release hearing.

Bail

A court order releasing an accused from custody while they are awaiting trial and requiring them to obey certain conditions (rules) and return to court on a specific date. In some cases, bail orders may require a money deposit or a bail surety. See surety in the glossary.

Bereaved / Bereavement

A person experiencing grief as a result of death.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

An expression used in law to mean the judge or jury deciding the case is very sure that the accused is guilty.  In a criminal case, Crown counsel must prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. 

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C

Canadian Constitution

The supreme law of the country, defining how government is organized, how it will function and setting out individuals’ fundamental rights and freedoms.

Captioner

A person who can translate and communicate information in real-time (live) during a court proceeding.

Case Management

The coordination of services and programs for an accused or offender.   

Challenge

A formal objection to a jurors’ participation on a jury. The person making the challenge does not agree that a juror can participate in the trial.

Character

The type of person someone is, including their personality, nature, traits, and ethics.

Charged

When a person has been formally accused of committing a crime by the laying of charges by Crown counsel. 

Charges

The specific criminal offence(s) a person is accused of committing. If a person is charged, it means they have been formally accused by Crown counsel of committing a crime

Charging

The act of Crown counsel formally accusing a person of committing a crime (criminal offence).

Child Abuse

When a person under 19 is abused or neglected and needs protection.

Community Sentence

Individuals sentenced to probationary terms, to be served within the community, under B.C. Corrections supervision.

Concept

A general idea about something.

Conditions

Terms or rules a person must follow if they are released into the community by a court or at any stage of the criminal process. 

Conditional Discharge

When a person is found guilty or pleads guilty, but the judge decides that, on successful completion of specified conditions, the person will not have a criminal record. 

Conditional Release / Conditionally Released

When the offender is released into the community but must follow certain rules (conditions) for a set period of time.   

Conditional Sentence

A sentence served by the offender in the community. The offender remains in the community under supervision, and is required to follow certain rules (conditions).

Conditionally

Conditionally means to allow as long as certain rules and promises are obeyed. 

Conference

A facilitated meeting to discuss the case specific issues concerning the youth, such as sentencing or restorative justice. This may be facilitated by a youth probation officer, a member of the police or someone else depending on where in the criminal justice process it occurs.

(In) Confidence

To have trust that information shared in a private conversation will not be communicated to others, but will be kept secret or private.

Consensual

Both or all people agree (consent).

Consent

To agree to something.

Consent Arraignment

Pleading guilty or not guilty using a form called a Consent Arraignment instead of before a judge. This option is only available in Victoria and the Western Communities but not for youth matters.

Contempt of Court

Serious disrespect for the court or an order of the court.  Being in contempt of court is an offence that can result in a fine or jail sentence.  

Contraband

Things illegally brought in or out of a provincial correctional centre (jail) or federal correctional centre (penitentiary).

Convict / Convicted / Conviction(s) / Convicting

When the criminal charges against an accused are proven beyond a reasonable doubt at the trial and the judge or jury finds the accused person guilty of committing a crime and the accused is not discharged. 

Correctional Centre

Jail or penitentiary. A provincial correctional centre (jail) is for offenders whose sentences are for less than two years. A federal correctional centre (penitentiary) is for offenders whose sentences are for two years or more.  

Court Clerk

Helps the judge inside the court room.  Some of the responsibilities include recording the court proceedings, marking and recording the list of exhibits and swearing in witnesses.

Court Proceedings

The activities that go on in the courtroom as part of a criminal case.

Credibility

A person’s believability. A person with credibility is someone who is honest and reliable as a witness. 

Crime

A crime is an act that breaks a law that relates to how to behave in society. The harm caused by the act is seen to be against society as a whole, not just a specific person. 

Criminal Charge

The specific criminal offence(s) a person is accused of committing.  If a person is charged, it means they have been formally accused of committing a crime by Crown counsel.

Criminal Code / Criminal Code of Canada

The federal law that applies across Canada and sets out criminal offences, sentences and how a criminal case proceeds.

Criminal Law

The law that deals with how the state responds to crime.

Criminal Offence

An act that breaks a law that relates to how to behave in society. The harm caused by the act is seen to be against society as a whole, not just a specific person.  Sometimes it refers to the specific law that was broken.

Criminal Record

Information about a person’s contact or involvement with the criminal justice system, starting with the involvement of the police through to sentencing and release from custody. Records are kept in central computer systems most police agencies across Canada can access.

Criminal Record Check

A request to police for information about a person’s criminal history. The person’s written consent is required for the check to be conducted.

Cross-Examination

The questioning of a witness by the lawyer on the other side of the case. Cross-examination takes place after the lawyer who called the witness to testify has finished asking questions. Its purpose is to test the witness’ truthfulness and reliability. Questions can be leading, that is, suggest a certain answer.

Crown Counsel / Crown

Independent lawyers with the prosecution service. Crown counsel do not represent the government, police or victim of crime.  Rather, they perform their function on behalf of the public. Crown counsel may also be referred to as Crown, Crown prosecutors or prosecutors.

Crown Lands

Land owned by the government.

Curfew

An order establishing a specific time in the evening after which certain rules apply.

Custody / In Custody / Custodial

Being held by police or corrections workers in a police station, provincial correctional centre (for a sentence less than two years), federal correctional centre (for a sentence of two or more years), or youth custody centre (for youth).

Custodial Sentence / Custody Sentence

A sentence given to an offender under which they are kept in custody. See custody in the glossary.

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D

Defence Counsel

The lawyer(s) representing the person accused or charged with committing a crime.

Defendant

A person formally accused of committing a crime by Crown counsel by the laying of a charge.  In the courtroom this person is referred to as the “defendant”.  Also known as the accused. 

Dependency

Heavy reliance on someone or something.  

Direct Examination

The questioning of a witness in court by the person who called the witness to court. The questions must be open ended and not suggesting a specific answer.

Discharge

When a person is found guilty or pleads guilty, but the judge decides that a conviction and criminal record are not necessary.  See absolute discharge and conditional discharge in the glossary.

Disclosure

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 relevant information gathered in the investigation so the accused can fully defend their self against the charges.

Dismiss

To reject in court, as in to dismiss a case.

Duty Counsel

A lawyer who can provide free legal advice and representation at a first court appearance and at a bail hearing, but not usually at trial.

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E

Ecumenical

To promote or foster Christian unity.

Eligible

To meet the requirements or qualify for something.

Encrypted

When words are replaced with various symbols so that the information is secure and transferred over the Internet like a secret code.

Evidence

Information and physical objects (for example, information from the victim and witnesses, documents, objects from the crime scene) presented by lawyers to the court.

Evidence-based

Based on enough research to show the effectiveness of a program or service.

Exempt / Exemptions

Special circumstances where someone called for jury duty is released from their obligation to participate.  The person is not required to serve as a juror or attend the trial.

Exhibits

Objects or documents formally presented to the court as part of the evidence.

Extrajudicial Measures

Options for dealing with a youth accused of committing a crime, instead of going to court. 

Extrajudicial Sanctions

More formal options used for dealing with a youth accused of committing a crime.

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F

Failure to Appear

When an accused does not attend a scheduled court appearance. Failing to appear is an offence.

Family Conferencing

A shared decision-making meeting for families. Friends and family come together to develop a plan to help solve problems, and to make sure children have the care and support they need.

Federal Correctional Centre

Penitentiaries where offenders serving sentences of two years or more are held.

Fine

All or part of a sentence requiring someone convicted of a crime to pay money to the court.

First Appearance

The first time the accused must appear in court.

Forensic

The examination of evidence by using science or technology in a legal setting.

Forensic Evidence

Evidence found where the crime occurred, such as fingerprints, results of blood tests, or DNA.

Forensic Scientist

A person who specializes in collecting and examining forensic evidence at a crime scene.

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G

Gang

A group of people that form a criminal organization or affiliation.

Guilty

When a person admits (pleads guilty) or is found by the judge or jury (found guilty) to have committed the crimes they are charged with.

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H

Hearing

An opportunity to be heard by the judge in court.

Hung Jury

A jury that is not able to reach a unanimous decision.

Hybrid Offences

These are offences that can be dealt with as either summary or indictable. Crown counsel makes the decision about how the offence will be handled.

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I

Immigrants

A person new to British Columbia.  Someone who leaves their country to permanently settle in another country.

Immigration Detention

Individuals detained under the Immigration Act.

Imprisonment

To be kept in custody (in a correctional centre) for a specified period of time after being found guilty of committing a crime.

Independent

A person or organization not influenced or controlled by other people’s or organization’s opinion. A person who thinks and acts on their own or an organization that operates on their own.

Indictable Offences

These are more serious offences and include theft over $5,000, break and enter, aggravated sexual assault and murder. Maximum penalties for indictable offences vary and include life in prison. Some indictable offences have minimum penalties.

Indictment

A document containing the formal list of charges.

Intimacy

A close personal relationship with other people.

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J

Jay Walking

The act of a person illegally or recklessly crossing the street.

Judge

The official responsible for running court hearings and deciding the outcome of court cases.

Judgment

The decision the judge or jury makes about whether or not the accused is guilty of committing a crime.  In a criminal case, it can either be guilty or not guilty.  Also see verdict in the glossary.

Judicial Interim Release

Release from custody of a person charged with a crime while they are waiting for their trial or appeal. See bail in the glossary.

Judicial Stay of Proceedings

When the judge stops the court process before the end of the trial. This happens very rarely.

Juror

Someone summoned by a court to be a member of the jury.

Jury

In criminal cases, a group of 12 citizens who listen to the evidence, follow the judge’s instructions about the law, and decide whether the accused is guilty or not guilty.

Jury Duty

Serving on a jury.

Jury Selection

Where the judge, Crown counsel and accused or defence counsel decide who will sit on the jury. The people selected are Canadian citizens without criminal records who live in B.C.

Juror Summons

A legal document that states a person must appear at the courthouse on a specific date and time to be considered for a jury.  Individuals who are summonsed will be part of the jury panel and could become part of the jury.

Just

Morally fair and righteous.

Justice of The Peace

An officer of the court who has some of the powers of a judge.

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L

Law-Abiding

A person who obeys the laws.

Lawyer

A person who is authorized to practice law.

Legal Aid

Free legal information, advice and representation for people cannot afford a lawyer and who qualify for the services. 

Linguistic

Related to language.

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M

Mediation

A form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), which aims to assist two (or more) disputants in reaching an agreement. Whether an agreement results or not, and whatever the content of that agreement, if any, rather than accepting something imposed by a third party the parties themselves determine the outcome.

Mistrial

When a trial ends without a final judgment because there has been a fundamental problem with the process or the jury cannot reach a decision.

Multi-faith

To have confidence or trust in many faiths (persons or things).

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N

Non-consensual

Not by agreement.

No Contact

A condition contained in a court order that the accused or offender not contact a named person.  It can include no contact or limited contact.

Non-contentious

Not controversial.

Non-custodial Sentence

A sentence served by an offender somewhere other than at correctional facility. For example, an offender may be given probation and serve their time in the community with supervision.

Non-disclosure

To fail to make information known (not to allow the information to be seen or heard); usually used in circumstances where information sharing is expected or required.

Not Guilty

When the Crown cannot prove the offence beyond a reasonable doubt, a person is not guilty. Also the plea the accused makes to the court when they assert they have not committed the crime.

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O

Offence

An act that breaks a law that relates to how to behave in society. The harm caused by the act is seen to be against society as a whole, not just a specific person.  Sometimes it refers to the specific law that was broken.

Offender(s)

Someone who the court has convicted of or who has pleaded guilty to a criminal offence. See conviction in the glossary.

Offending Behaviour

A person’s behaviour that does not follow the law.

Officer-in-Charge Recognizance

An agreement an accused person makes to forfeit a sum of money if they do not appear in court. An accused person may be required to make a cash deposit if they live more than 200 km from the court in which they are to appear.

Officer-in-Charge Recognizance

An agreement an accused person makes to forfeit a sum of money if they do not appear in court. An accused person may be required to make a cash deposit if they live more than 200 km from the court in which they are to appear.

Omission

Something someone fails to do.

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P

Panelists

A group of potential jurors.

Pardon

A decision to keep a criminal record separate from other criminal records. A pardon does not mean the criminal record is removed but rather, that it will not be given out to businesses or agencies. Pardons have been replaced by record suspensions.

Parole

Release of an offender into the community before the end of their sentence. Usually the offender must follow certain rules (conditions) while on parole.

Parole Board / Parole Board of Canada

A government agency responsible for making decisions about parole and pardons. 

Peace Bond

An order made by a judge in criminal court to help protect one person from another.  The peace bond lists certain conditions that must be followed by the person the peace bond has been issued against.

Penitentiary

Usually refers to a federal correctional centre where offenders with sentences of two years or more are held.

Perjury

Lying after you have sworn (or affirmed) to tell the truth.  See swear and affirm in the glossary.

Perspective

A person’s way of looking at a situation, their mental view point.

Plea / Plead / Pleading

The statement an accused person makes to the court when asked if they are guilty or not guilty of committing a crime. 

Police Custody

Being under the control and supervision of the police.

Preliminary Hearing

A hearing before the trial where the judge decides if there is enough evidence to have a trial. Held only in cases involving serious offences.

Pre-sentence Report

A written document prepared by a probation officer to help the court learn more about the person being sentenced.

Probation

Being supervised in the community and following certain conditions as part of a sentence.

Probation Officer

A person who provides supervision, services and support to help offenders adjust back into the community and avoid re-offending. 

Probation Order

An order requiring an offender to follow certain rules (conditions) for a set period of time while they are serving all or part of their sentence in the community.  

Proceedings

Legal steps or measures taken against a person.

Prolific Offender

An offender with a long criminal history. 

Promise to Appear

A document an accused signs when they are released from police custody before the trial, promising to appear in court on a specific date.

Proportionate / Proportional

Used in law to mean the response to the justice problem (crime or civil dispute) fits in size, seriousness and scope.

Prosecute / Prosecuted / Prosecution

To start or carry out legal proceedings against an accused who has been charged with committing a criminal offence.

Prostitution

The act of giving sexual services for money.

Protection Order

A court order stating the offender must stay away from the victim.

Protection Order Registry

A computer database of protection orders issued by B.C. courts.

Provincial Correctional Centre

Jail where offenders who have been sentenced to less than two years are held.

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R

Record Suspension

A decision to keep a criminal record separate from other criminal records.

Reform

To improve something.  For example, to further improve the criminal justice system.

Refugee

A person who leaves their home country and goes to another country for safety.

Rehabilitation / Rehabilitate

Improvement of a person’s behaviour and their return to the community as a law- abiding member of the community.

Reimbursed

To pay back (refund) money.

Re-integration / Re-integrate

To become part of something again. In the case of an offender re-integrating into society, it means the offender returns to the community as a law-abiding person.

Releases

To be let go from somewhere.  For example, to be let go from custody.

Remanded

Being held in custody until the next court date. It can also mean to postpone a criminal proceeding to another date, like an adjournment.

Re-offend

To commit another crime after being convicted of a crime.

Report to Crown Counsel (RCC)

A document prepared by an investigative agency such as the police that describes the circumstances of an alleged criminal or regulatory offence, and makes a recommendation on charges.

Restitution

Money the court orders an offender to pay a victim as compensation for losses to the victim as a result of the crime. This might cover, for example, lost wages or damaged property.

Restorative Justice

A response to crime involving the offender dealing directly with the victim and representatives of the community to come up with ways to repair the harm caused by the crime and make amends.

Restraining Order

An order made by a judge in civil court to help protect one person from another. Often includes rules (conditions) that must be followed by the person the restraining order has been issued against.

Re-trial

To have another (second) trial for the same offence(s).

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S

Sanctions

Punishment for breaking the law.

Sentence / Sentencing / Sentenced

The punishment a person receives after being found guilty of or pleading guilty to committing a crime. Sentences may include fines, community supervision or time in prison (also called a correctional centre or penitentiary). 

Sentence Hearing

A court hearing where a judge hears submissions from Crown and defence counsel about how the offender should be sentenced.

Sentencing Circles

A traditional Aboriginal method of dealing with members of the community who have broken the law. The circle is made up of the accused, victim, families, elders and other interested community members. A judge and a defence lawyer or Crown Counsel and/or police officer also sit in the circle. The purpose of the circle is to reach a consensus about the offender’s sentence to recommend to the judge.

Serious Offence

An offence for which an adult could receive up to five years in jail.

Sexual Assault

Any sexual contact that happens without the consent of both people.

Sexual Exploitation

Using children for sex in return for such things as food, shelter, drugs, money, or other basic needs of life. 

Sheriff

A justice system official who is responsible for making sure the courtroom is safe and for looking after witnesses, juries and prisoners.

Spousal Abuse

Includes any form of violence within a relationship (marriage, common law or dating) – sexual, emotional, financial and psychological, including threats.

Stalking

Following, watching or contacting someone in a way that causes the person to fear for their safety or the safety of someone they know. 

Statement

A written version of the information provided by a witness or victim to the police that relates to a crime that was committed.

Statutes

Laws established and enforced by the government.

Statutory Release

Automatic release into the community for the last third of a federal (two years or more) sentence.  Offenders on statutory release are supervised during the remainder of their sentence and may have to follow certain conditions (rules).   

Stay of Proceedings

This means Crown counsel has dropped the charges against you, ending the prosecution. However, for a serious charge, they may re-start the prosecution within one year of the stay. For a less serious charge, Crown counsel may re-start the prosecution within six months of the incident that led to charges. If the prosecution is not re-started within those time frames, the matter is over.

Subpoena

An official court document, ordering a witness to come to court to give evidence (pronounced sub-pena).

Subpoenaed

Having received an official court document (subpoena) ordering attendance at court to give evidence.

Subsidized

Assisted financially by someone else who contributes to the cost of a service or good.  

Substance Abuse

Excessive use or misuse of drugs or alcohol.

Summary Offences

These are less serious offences. The maximum penalty for a summary offence is usually a $5,000 fine and/or six months in jail. Some summary offences have higher maximum sentences. They include breaches of a probation order.

Summoned

Notified that you must appear in court at a specified date and time.

Summons

An official notice telling an accused person they must appear in court at a specific time and place. 

Surety

Someone who promises to pay money to the court if an accused released on bail does not obey their bail conditions or fails to attend court.

Suspect / Suspected

A person who is believed to have committed a crime.

Swear an Oath / Swearing / Sworn In

Promising to tell the truth or carry out a duty and accepting that there will be religious or supernatural consequences if you do not.

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T

Temporary Absences

A temporary leave from prison for things like medical treatment, counselling, or contact with family. 

Temporary Release

A temporary release from jail where the offender must follow certain orders and conditions.

Testify / Testifies

To give information about a crime to the court after promising to tell the truth. See swearing and affirming in the glossary.

Testimony / Testimonies

The information a person gives to the court after they have promised to tell the truth. See swearing and affirming in the glossary.

Third Party Reporting

When someone other than the person who is a victim of crime reports the crime to the police. 

Tried

When a case goes to trial, it is being tried.

Trial / Trials

A court proceeding where parties come together to present their case for or against an accused person.  The judge or jury then determines if, based on the law and facts, the accused person is guilty or not guilty of committing a crime.

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U

Unanimous

Everyone agreeing. In a jury trial, when all the jurors make the same decision about whether the accused person is guilty or not guilty of committing a crime.

Unbiased

Not biased or prejudiced.  Fair. 

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V

Verdict

The decision the judge or jury makes about whether an accused committed the crime(s) with which they were charged.  In a criminal case, the verdict can either be guilty or not guilty. See judgment in the glossary.

Victim / Victim of Crime

A person who has been directly or indirectly affected by a crime. 

Victim Impact Statement

A written description by a victim of how the crime has affected them. 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.

Violent Offence

A violent offence could be any offence where you threatened to cause bodily harm, actually caused bodily harm, or, if you committed an offence that endangers someone’s life, even if no physical injury occurred.

Vocational

Work-related education, training and qualifications related to a specific job or occupation.

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W

Warrant

A court order giving police or other officials permission to carry out a certain action.

Witness / Witnesses

A person who has information about a crime.   

Witness Notifier

The person responsible for managing the list of witnesses who are to attend hearings.  Someone witnesses can call to ask questions. 

Work Release

Release of an offender from prison so they can work during the day and return to prison at night. 

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Y

Youth Offender

In Canada, people who are 12 to 17 are considered youths under criminal law, and fall within the scope of the Young Criminal Justice Act (YCJA).

Youth

Under the criminal law, anyone aged 12 to 17.

Youth Criminal Justice Act

The federal law that governs how young people (12 to 17 when the crime was committed) are dealt with in the criminal justice system.

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Z

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