Basic Legal Terminology

There are a lot of good legal dictionaries available, both in print and online, but sometimes they don’t contain words that non-lawyers do not understand or are not sure they understand and might be afraid to ask for fear of looking stupid (yes, we’ve all been there).

I offer my own effort here as a sort of, dare I say it, “Legal Terminology for Dummies”. No offence intended!

This is just a start of my terminology list and I will add to it as I go along. Contact me if you have other words that you would like to have added to the list.

A written document that contains evidence that the person making the affidavit swears or affirms is true. Affidavits should only contain facts, not opinion, not argument and not personal comments or attacks. Other documents like emails, letters, photos and even copies of text messages can be attached to an affidavit as exhibits to support the factual statements made in the affidavit. Evidence given to the court on an application should only be given by properly made and filed affidavits.

Often written down as an outline or even in full paragraphs. If you are going to refer heavily to your written argument, you should make copies of it to give to the judge and the opposing party to follow along. See also submission.

Another word for ‘lawyer’. If this is what you call lawyers, you have been watching too much American TV

Either an actual metal or wooden horizontal bar or the physical area separating the seats where people sit to observe or wait their turn in front of the judge from the counsel table.

You are not entitled to go beyond the bar to the counsel table or the podium unless you are a party (and the clerk has called your case) or the judge gives you permission to do so.

Also a word sometimes used for lawyers as a group.

A more common term in England where it originated. See above “the Bar”. A Barrister was a lawyer who took a case that was prepared by someone else (the “Solicitor”) and argued it in court.

In B.C., when we take our oath and become full-fledged lawyers, we are designated as “Barristers and Solicitors”.

Barristers in B.C. are lawyers who do primarily litigation and try to restrict their practices to court work. The lawyers preparing the files for the barristers are not the old “solicitor” type of lawyer but generally other more junior lawyers in their firms.

The place where the judge sits and overlooks the courtroom (no, it’s not an actual bench. Judges sit on chairs).

Also a word sometimes used for judges as a group.

A courtroom in BC Supreme Court where a judge or master hears a variety of applications usually starting with the shortest applications, i.e. 5 minute application.

An order that contains terms which all parties have agreed to include.

Lawyer or lawyers.

“Counsels” is awkward. Treat it like “moose”, one noun for both one and more “moose”.

Also, note the spelling. Avoid “council” which is something completely different but often used in error.

The long desk where there is usually a podium in the middle and space on each side for the applicant and respondent to sit and put their material.

In front of the podium there will be a microphone. This does not make your voice louder; it is recording what is being said for transcription later if necessary.

The person sitting in front of the judge in the courtroom (and behind a computer) who is responsible for checking you in at 9:45 a.m., for recording the proceedings, for handing up material from the litigants to the judge and back again, and generally assisting the judge and the parties with administrative or clerical matters.

Costs that are usually awarded to the successful party after trial based on a scale and on specific amounts set out in a Tariff attached to the Rules of Court.

The amount is often far less than what the successful party actually spent on legal fees.

Costs that a party will pay to their lawyer for things like photocopying, faxes, courier charges, filing fees, etc.

This is a term that is used with both production of documents and examination of a party by the opposing party, under oath/affirmation and with a court reporter transcribing all of the questions and answers for later use.

Documents that start or respond to a court process, affidavits, and orders are just some of the documents that have to be filed with the court before they are served or delivered to other parties.

The documents are taken to the Registry where the registry clerk stamps them with the court stamp. More recently, lawyers are able to file documents electronically.

A document that does not have a court stamp with a date on it is a document that has not been filed.

How you address a judge in Supreme Court.

Refers to the Notice of Civil Claim and the Response to Civil Claim and Counterclaim (it could also include a Third Party Notice and the third party’s Response).

These documents set out a party’s position on the evidence, what the party wants the court to order and the legal basis for why the party should get that order.

A person appointed to sit in special Registrar’s Hearings to decide cases about, for example, lawyer’s fees and the amount of costs that should be paid by the losing party after a trial.

This is where you have to go to file documents or obtain copies of documents from a court file.

Most registries have different counters for different kinds of cases, e.g. probate, family, civil. The registry clerks are very helpful and informative.

These govern the procedure that is to be followed, including how documents are to be prepared, filed, delivered, the timelines that have to be followed.

Another word for ‘lawyer’. This is a bit old-fashioned and you won’t hear it used much in court except perhaps when people talk about “solicitor-client costs”.

“Solicitors” in B.C. are often lawyers who deal with business-related matters, drafting contracts and papering business deals and do not often appear in court.

The court costs awarded at the end of a trial which represent all of the successful party’s reasonable legal costs.

Not the thing that you stick to a letter (remember those?) but a rubber stamp with the court’s name on it and the date.

Your presentation or argument made to the court.

These may be oral, written or a little of both. Concise, chronological and crisply focused – that is your goal!

A document that is served on a witness to require the witness to attend a trial to give evidence on a certain day and at a certain time.

A witness who fails to show up could be found in contempt of court and could be arrested and brought to court if the court issues a “bench warrant”. This does not happen very often.

An application you can make to ask the court to make an order in your favour based simply on the facts in the Notice of Civil Claim or Response to Civil Claim on the basis that there is no actual case against you or there is no defence to your claim.

Only in the simplest and most straightforward of cases is this likely to happen. One perhaps oversimplified example involves a debt claim where there is a clear written agreement of the amount loaned, the date for repayment and no repayment made.

A hearing in Supreme Court that is normally limited to affidavit evidence and argument from the parties and is often a quicker and cheaper way to have your case decided than going to an actual trial where witnesses will give their evidence live in front of the judge.

A person or company involved in some way in the events or incidents that lead to the plaintiff suing the defendant.

The defendant takes the position that the defendant is not liable to the plaintiff but the third party is liable or that if the defendant is partly liable, the third party is also partly liable.

“Third party” can also be used as a verb, i.e. the defendant third partied X company because X company was also negligent and contributed to the plaintiff’s loss.

Lists of the court hearings to take place at the Courthouse on any particular day.

The list is typed on out several sheets of paper and posted on a board outside the Registry. You should look here if your case is not in chambers.  If your case is in chambers, look for the Chambers lists in the same place.

The lists show the name of the cases, who the judge will be and what courtroom you will be in. If you can’t figure it out, ask the security guard who is usually sitting nearby at the security/information desk.

In B.C. Supreme Court, any application that is set for more than 2 hours must have the hearing date set by Trial Scheduling.

Their counter is also located in the Registry. They also help out with dates that are available for trials.

How you address a Master of the Supreme Court (or a Registrar if you are fighting your lawyer’s bill or having costs of a trial assessed)


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