Legal Studies glossary – R to Z

This Legal Studies glossary contains terms and concepts relevant to Australian law, courts and legal processes. This page contains words from ‘R’ to ‘Z’. This glossary is written and maintained by authors:

ratio decidendi
Latin, ‘the reason for the decision’. The ratio decidendi is the part of a judgement that explains its reasoning. This also constitutes a binding precedent on lower courts.

A referendum is a public vote to decide on a proposed change to the Constitution.

referral of powers
The referral of powers is a process by which one or more States surrender their law-making powers to the Commonwealth, as outlined in Section 51(xxxvii) of the Constitution.

A registrar is an official of a court or tribunal.

Regulations are laws or by laws made by a subordinate authority.

Remand is an order to appear in court at a later date, given to a person charged with a criminal offence. A person can either be remanded on bail (released) or remanded in custody (detained) until the scheduled date of their court appearance.

A remedy is a means of resolving a civil dispute by making amends, such as with the payment of compensation.

representative government
A representative government is a government where citizens elect individuals or deputies to govern and make laws on their behalf.

representative charges
Representative charges are charges laid as an illustrative sample of a long and/or frequent history of offending. They are designed to show a pattern of conduct and behaviour, where it may not be possible to lay charges for all specific offences. This most frequently occurs in sexual abuse cases.

reprinted act
A reprinted act is a reprint of legislation showing the amendments to its content, in order to publicise these changes.

A republic is a system of government where the head of state is a president rather than a monarch. The president is appointed by the government or parliament or elected by the people.

In civil law, rescission is the decision by one party to lawfully terminate a contract with another.

reserve powers
The reserve powers are constitutional powers granted to the head of state (in Australia, the governor-general) that allow him or her to act without the approval of other branches of government. In the Commonwealth of Australia, reserve powers include refusing assent to bills, withdrawing the commission of ministers and dissolving the parliament.

reversing precedent
A reversing precedent occurs only in appellate hearings, where judges reverse the precedent set in the original court.

Residential Tenancies List
The Residential Tenancies List is a branch of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). It deals with disputes between landlords and their tenants. Prior to 1998, it was known as the Residential Tenancies Tribunal.

residual powers
Residual powers are powers not explicitly described in the Constitution and so are granted to the States.

The respondent is the party against whom a claim or allegation is made, either in a criminal appeals court, a civil hearing or tribunal.

responsible government
Responsible government is a feature of Westminster political systems. It requires the executive government and its ministers to be accountable to the representatives of the people (the parliament).

restraining order (see injunction)

right to silence
The right to silence is a fundamental legal right. It allows individuals being questioned or cross-examined to say nothing that may incriminate them.

Royal assent
Royal assent is the signing of a bill by a vice-regal officer, such as the Governor-General (Commonwealth) or a Governor (State). It marks the final step in passing a bill into law. After royal assent a bill becomes legislation.

rule of law
The rule of law is a fundamental aspect of democratic societies. It requires that decisions affecting individuals are made according to the law and are applied equally and fairly.

rules of evidence
The rules of evidence are technical requirements that determine whether evidence can be admitted in a court or hearing. Most jurisdictions, such as the States, have an Evidence Act which contains guidelines about the legitimacy and admissibility of evidence.

A sanction is a penalty imposed by a court. Sanctions for criminal offences include imprisonment, suspended sentences, fines and community service orders.

search warrant
A search warrant is issued by a judge or magistrate and allows police or other authorities to conduct searches of private property. For a search warrant to be issued, the applicant (usually the police) must show probable cause that specific evidence may be found.

Second Reading
The Second Reading is the second step of a bill’s passage through parliament. The Second Reading usually involves a speech in support of the bill, delivered by the bill’s sponsor, followed by debate in the chamber.

Select Committee
A select committee is a parliamentary committee formed to inquire into a particular area of law or policy. After investigating and making recommendations to the parliament, the section committee disbands.

The Senate is the upper house of the Commonwealth parliament. It contains a fixed number of representatives from each State and Territory (currently 12 per State and two per Territory). The Senate acts as a house of review and has comparable law-making powers to the House of Representatives, though the Senate has no power to introduce appropriation or money bills.

A sentence is a punishment imposed by a judge on the accused after he or she is found guilty in a criminal trial.

separation of powers
The separation of powers is a political principle that divides government into three distinct branches: the executive (cabinet), the legislature (parliament) and the judiciary (the courts). The separation of powers ensures cross-checking and prevents one branch of government from acquiring too much power.

special leave
Special leave is a restriction on the appellate jurisdiction of the High Court. Before the High Court will consider a criminal or civil appeal, the appellant must be granted special leave by a limited panel of the court.

specific powers
Specific powers are constitutional powers explicitly allocated to the Commonwealth parliament and not the States.

standard of proof
The standard of proof is the degree or amount of proof, represented in both evidence and argument, needed to successfully prove a case. In criminal cases, the standard of proof is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. In civil matters, it is the ‘balance of probabilities’.

stare decisis
Latin, ‘maintain what has been decided’. The legal principle stare decisis compels judges to follow precedents established by other judges in an equal or higher court.

statute (see Act of Parliament)

statutory interpretation
Statutory interpretation is a process of extracting meaning from legislation. Statutory interpretation is carried out by judges, who examine relevant legislation, decide upon the meaning and intent of words contained in the legislation and apply it to the facts of the case.

statutory law
Statutory law refers to legislation (laws made by parliaments).

sub judice
Latin, ‘under judgement’. A case or matter before a court is considered sub judice, which means that public comment or speculation about the case is not permitted. The media can report the facts of the case but may not engage in speculation or opinion that might sway the jury. Breaches of sub judice may result in a charge of contempt of court.

Latin, ‘under penalty’. A subpoena is a writ requiring a witness to appear and testify in court. Failure to comply with a subpoena is treated as contempt of course.

To sue is to initiate a lawsuit, to commence civil legal action against other party.

summary offence
A summary offence is a minor criminal offence. Summary offences can be dealt with in a Magistrates Court or a Court of Petty Sessions, without a judge and jury.

summary trial
A summary trial is a criminal trial conducted in a Magistrate’s Court, where the verdict is delivered by a magistrate rather than a jury.

summons (see writ of summons)

Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in each Australian State and Territory. It hears serious indictable offences, significant civil disputes and appeals. In the United States, the Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation, the equivalent of Australia’s High Court. In the United Kingdom, the Supreme Court is the nation’s highest appellate court.

suspended sentence
A suspended sentence is a sentence of detention or imprisonment that is handed down by a court but not imposed. The sentence remains suspended, provided the convicted party does not receive another conviction within a prescribed period. Suspended sentences are, in effect, a form of probation.

terra nullius
Latin, ‘nobody’s land’. Terra nullius is historic principle of British law. It asserted that undeveloped or unused land was open for claim as a colonial possession. Terra nullius was used to justify the settlement of Australia, despite the presence of indigenous people.

test case
A test case is a civil lawsuit or other legal challenge that tests the validity of a new law or establishes a new legal precedent.

Testimony is statements or assertions made by an individual in a court or hearing, given under oath or affirmation.

A tipstaff is an officer of the court, responsible for the security of the judge and the conduct of persons in the courtroom.

In common law, a tort is an injury or wrong perpetrated on one individual by another, either intentionally or accidentally. Torts do not cover situations involving contracts. Examples of torts include assault, false imprisonment, breach of duty of care, defamation, trespass and negligence.

Trafficking is the movement, trading or selling of illegal substances, especially drugs.

Treason is a criminal offence involving an act of disloyalty to one’s monarch, government or nation. Possible examples include physical attacks on a ruler, collaborating with an enemy in a time of war or engaging in espionage. Treason charges are now extremely rare.

Trespass is a criminal offence or civil wrong, where one party enters the private premises of another party and/or remains after being asked to leave.

A tribunal is a quasi-legal authority empowered to hear civil complaints, disputes or other matters. Tribunals are intended to free up the court system and provide a cheaper, faster and less formal dispute resolution service.

ultra vires
Latin, ‘beyond the powers’. An ultra vires action is where an individual, organisation or government has acted beyond its legal authority. A government exercising powers not allocated to it in the constitution is an example of ultra vires.

unanimous verdict
A unanimous verdict is a jury verdict where all jurors are in agreement.

A verdict is a decision reached by a jury on matters brought before a court. There are several types of verdict: unanimous (where all jurors agree), majority (where all jurors bar one agree) and, in some jurisdictions, not proven (where the jury believes there is insufficient evidence to convict but believes further investigation is warranted).

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, or VCAT, is an amalgamation of Victorian boards and tribunals empowered to hear civil disputes. VCAT allows access to civil law and dispute resolution without using the court system. It hears matters from a range of areas of law including tenancy, consumer disputes, appeals of local government decisions, discrimination complaints and occupational regulation.

A warrant is an order or instruction issued by a judge. The most common types of warrants are arrest warrants or search warrants.

Westminster system
The Westminster system is the system of government used in Britain, Australia and most British Commonwealth countries. Its features include a constitutional monarchy, a representative legislature with two houses; ministers who act as the executive government; an independent judiciary and regular elections.

A writ is a formal legal document lodged with the Supreme Court and the respondent before a civil trial. It informs the respondent of the details of the complaint, the remedy sought and the date and venue of the trial.

writ of summons
A writ of summons is an order of the court, requiring a party to appear before the court, produce physical evidence such as documents or carry out some other instruction.

zero tolerance
Zero tolerance is an approach to dealing with crime. It involves prosecuting all criminal activity, no matter how minor, with little or no police discretion. Zero tolerance is a relatively recent policing strategy, designed to clean cities or regions of crime.

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