Definition of Criminal Law Words and Phrases

You may often be unsure about the definition of criminal law terms.

Terms and phrases used by lawyers often are hard to understand and this is why we have listed a definition of criminal law terms. During your interaction with a criminal lawyer or throughout your experience with the Court process, you may come across some words that you haven't heard before or aren't sure of what they mean.

Following is an alphabetical list of criminal law terms and definitions that you may find useful.


  • Abet - Usually used in a criminal context to mean assisting or arranging for someone to do something illegal. To abet is to assist.
  • Abuse Of Process - Misuse or unjust use of court procedure, e.g. long delay in bringing an action may disadvantage a defendant. An abuse of process might be the Police destroying material that they knew would help the defence. Hiding documents would also be an Abuse of Process.
  • Accessory - Person involved in helping to commit a crime but who is not present at the time of that crime. An accessory 'Before the fact' meaning prior to the crime. 'After the fact' meaning to be involved in the hiding or assisting the person/s who were at the involved at the scene of the crime.
  • Accomplice - Person who is party to the crime or the people involved directly with the criminal act is an accomplice.
  • Accused - Person alleged to have committed a crime.
  • Actus Reus - The physical element of an offence.
  • Acquit Or An Acquittal - A decision by a judge or jury that finds a defendant in a criminal case not guilty after a trial. An acquittal is not necessarily a finding of innocence, more a conclusion that the prosecution has not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Adjourn - To move a court hearing to a future date. 
  • Adjournment Without Conviction - A sentencing order of a good behaviour bond. It means no conviction is recorded and the matter is adjourned so the defendant can show they can keep out of trouble.
  • Admissible Evidence - Evidence received, or capable of being received, by a court for the purpose of proving a fact in issue that is not excluded by evidence law.
  • Affidavit - A written document sworn on oath before a person with authority to administer it. The person in whose name the document is sworn is called the deponent.
  • Affirmation - Instead of taking an oath, a witness may make a solemn declaration that the evidence he or she gives will be truthful if the witness has no religious belief.
  • Age Of Consent - The age at which a young person can legally enter into a sexual relationship. Consent has a legal meaning that is different from the common understanding of the word. So while a 15 years old may consent to something in reality the law is that they can not consent, legally, because of their age.
  • Aggravating Circumstance - A circumstance surrounding the commission of an offence, such as an offender being in possession of a weapon, that may result in a greater penalty for an offender.
  • Alcohol Interlock - A breath-testing device wired to the ignition system of a vehicle that prevents a vehicle from starting unless the driver passes a breath test.
  • Alibi - Defence to a criminal charge on the grounds that the accused was somewhere other than the scene of a crime when that crime was committed. An alibi witness is someone who can confirm that the accused was somewhere else. To run an alibi an alibi notice needs to be lodged in Court prior to the hearing.
  • Alleged - Said to have happened, but not proved. Allegations are the stuff Court cases are built on.
  • Ancillary Orders - Orders incidental to the main orders, for example, an injunction is an ancillary order.
  • Appeal - An appeal involves the challenging of a decision made by a lower Court.
  • Appellant - A person who appeals a decision of a court.
  • Appellate Courts - Courts to which an appeal is made. Either County Court or Court of Appeal. Sometimes appeals are made on points of law to the Supreme Court.
  • Applicant - Person who starts a case in a court. Applicants, appellants, respondents, defendants, etc., are generally called 'parties'.
  • Arraignment - The indictment is read to the accused who is asked how she or he pleads to the count or counts contained in the indictment.
  • Arrest - Arrest is the process by which someone is taken into custody.
  • Assessment and Referral Court (ARC) List - A specialist court list run at the Melbourne Magistrates Court intended to meet the needs of accused persons who have a mental illness and/or a cognitive impairment by facilitating access to appropriate treatment and other support services.
  • Attorney - An attorney is an American term for a Lawyer. Not used in Victoria.