The information on this page is for the criminal justice system in Victoria, Australia. If you are from another state, please search for your state's victims service.


A term used in the County and Supreme Courts when referring to the person accused of the crime.

An agreement by a person charged with a criminal offence to appear at court when required and to abide by any special conditions on what they can or cannot do whilst on bail. This can include a condition that they not approach or contact the victim.

Burden of proof
The job of the prosecutor is to try to prove to the jury or magistrate that the defendant did commit the crime they have been charged with. This is called the 'burden of proof'. (See also Guilty or Not Guilty) 

Clerk in Magistrates Court
This person helps the magistrate in the Magistrate's and Children's Courts. They will sit in the courtroom, nearby the judge. They wear plain clothes. An officer of the Court will read aloud the oath for the witness to repeat.

Civil court
A court hearing non-criminal cases. A civil action is brought by one person against another person where it is alleged that one person has infringed the other's legal rights.

The police may issue an offender with an official caution if they are under 18 years old. This is usually used for a first offence and must be appropriate in the circumstances.

Committal Hearing
A court hearing in the Magistrates' Court where a magistrate decides if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial.

Committal Mention
A court hearing in the Magistrates' Court where a magistrate decides if it is appropriate for the case to be finalised in that court or if it should go to trial in a higher court. If a magistrate decides it is appropriate for the case to go to trial, a Committal Hearing takes place where a magistrate decides if there is enough evidence for a trial to go ahead.

An amount of money given to a victim of crime to pay for loss, damage or to make amends.

A victim of the crime. Someone who has witnessed or heard something is referred to as the non-complainant witness.

A person is convicted when they are found guilty by a jury or plead guilty before a judge or magistrate.

Contested hearing
A contested hearing takes place if the accused/defendant pleads 'not guilty' to the charges. The Magistrate decides if there is enough evidence to find the person guilty.

The room where court hearings are held. 

An action by a person that is against the law.

County Court
A judge presides over this court. It hears serious (indictable) cases and a jury decides the case.

Court Networker
A volunteer who helps people who go to the court. Court networkers help witnesses, victims of crime and their families or friends.

Criminal offence
For the purpose of the Victims' Charter Act 2006, a criminal offence is an offence, or a series of offences committed by a person who may or may not have been accused or convicted of the offence.

Cross examination
When you first give your evidence to the court, you will answer questions asked by the prosecutor, this is called 'evidence in chief'. This is followed by cross examination, where the defence lawyer will ask you questions about what you said in your statement, and what you have already told the court. The defense lawyer's job is to test your evidence in cross examination, to make sure that what you are saying is truthful and accurate.

Police serve diversion notices for minor crimes.

The offender may be given community service or other 'service' such as writing an apology to the victim or cleaning up graffiti.

A term sometimes used in the Magistrates' Court when referring to the person accused of the crime.

Asking a witness questions about evidence he or she has given during the examination-in-chief. The defence barrister cross-examines prosecution witnesses and the prosecutor cross-examines defence witnesses.

The defence lawyer/barrister
The defence lawyer is the person whose job it is to help the accused or defendant in court. This person speaks to the magistrate or judge for the defendant, and asks witnesses questions. In the County and Supreme Courts, the defence lawyer will usually wear a black robe and a wig. In the Magistrate's and Children's Courts the defence lawyer will wear plain clothes.

Evidence is what a witness tells the court. Your evidence might be to tell the people in the court what happened to you, or it may be what you saw or heard.

You might remember that you have already talked to the police about what you know. This is called a statement. It may have been video recorded statement (called a VATE) or a written statement. If your statement was video recorded this will usually become part of your evidence and may be played in court. 

It is a good idea to read over your statement before you come to court, so that it is fresh in your mind. If you made a video statement, you will usually be asked to watch your VATE before giving evidence.

Guilty or Not Guilty
The jury or magistrate need to be convinced 'beyond reasonable doubt' that the accused or defendant did commit the crime, which means they need to be almost positive, before they can say that the person is 'guilty'. It is difficult to be almost positive that something happened when the jury or magistrate were not there to see it themselves. For this reason, it takes a lot of evidence to prove that somebody is guilty.

Don't forget that while your evidence is very important, you are not the only witness in the case. Your evidence is like one piece of the puzzle, and the other witnesses and other evidence are other pieces of the puzzle. If there is a piece of the puzzle that does not fit or is missing, then the jury or magistrate might say that the accused or defendant is 'not guilty'. This does not mean that people do not believe your evidence; just that there was not enough evidence from everyone involved to prove that it happened 'beyond reasonable doubt'. 

Remember that if a person is found not guilty, that does not mean that the jury or magistrate thinks they are innocent.

Family violence intervention order
A court order made by a magistrate to protect a family member from family violence.

Indictable offence
More serious crimes such as arson, perjury, murder and manslaughter are called indictable offences and, with some exceptions, are tried in the County Court or the Supreme Court.

An injury under the Victims' Charter Act 2006 is:

  • actual physical bodily injury
  • mental illness or disorder or an exacerbation of a mental illness or disorder, whether or not flowing from nervous shock
  • pregnancy
  • grief, distress or trauma or other significant adverse effect
  • loss or damage to property or
  • any combination of matters referred to above.

Instructing solicitor
In the County and Supreme Courts, the Prosecutor and defence lawyer are helped by another lawyer called the instructing solicitor, who usually also sits in the courtroom. They do not ask witnesses questions. You will probably meet the instructing solicitor before you give your evidence. 

A person who is in charge of the court, has the power to interpret the law and apply it, and to decide how to sentence a person who is found guilty of a criminal offence.

Judge's Associate
This person also helps the judge in the Supreme and County Courts. They will sit in the courtroom, nearby the judge. They will usually wear a black robe.

A group of people from the community brought together to make a verdict (a finding of fact) on a legal question or court case (e.g. to decide if a person accused of a crime is guilty or not guilty).

The set of rules developed by the government and the courts to deal with, among other things, crimes.

A person who is trained in the law. A lawyer advises people about the law. See barrister and solicitor.

A person who is in charge of a Magistrates' Court and has the power to interpret the law and apply it, to decide whether a person is innocent or guilty of a criminal offence and how to sentence a person who is found guilty of a criminal offence.

The magistrate is the person who is in charge of the courtroom in the Magistrate’s Court and makes sure everyone follows the rules of the court. You can call the magistrate 'Your Honor'.

In contested hearings, the magistrate listens to all of the evidence and decides whether there is enough evidence to find the defendant guilty. The magistrate sits at the front of the courtroom and wears normal clothes.

Before a case proceeds to the County or Supreme Courts, a magistrate listens to the evidence and decides whether there is enough evidence. This is called a Committal Hearing.

In the Children's Court, the person in charge maybe a magistrate or a judge. The magistrate or judge sits at the front of the courtroom and wears normal clothes. There no committal hearing in the Children's Court.

Magistrate's Court
The court that hears the less serious (summary) cases and does not use a jury.

Not guilty
A verdict given by a jury. This means the jury thinks the prosecution has not proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.

An oath is when a witness promises to tell the truth in court. If you are religious, you can take the oath on the Bible or Koran. Otherwise, you can make an affirmation, which is a non-religious promise. You do not need to memorise the oath, a clerk of the court reads out the oath or affirmation for you to repeat.

A person who has committed a crime.

Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP)
Solicitor's office that prosecutes very serious criminal cases (e.g. cases involving charges of rape or murder) on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The OPP and Victoria Police are separate organisations.

The release of a prisoner prior to completion of their sentence, usually subject to specific restrictions and/or conditions.

An accused person can plead 'guilty' or 'not guilty'. At a committal hearing a person can also elect to reserve their plea until their case reaches the County Court.

Plea hearing
The hearing held either after a person has been found guilty by a jury or has chosen to please guilty. Victim Impact Statements are given at this hearing.

Police officer/informant
(also referred to as the police investigator)

The police officer who lays the criminal charges against the accused person and coordinates the investigation.

The police investigator is the main point of contact between the victim and the police. If the case goes to court, the police investigator may present the evidence gathered by the police and/or be questioned by the prosecutor and the defence lawyer.

Police Prosecutor
A specialised police officer who stands at a bench in front of the magistrate and presents the case against the defendant by presenting witnesses.

The police prosecutor is specially trained in matters of law and court procedure. He or she decides which witnesses will be required to give evidence in court and the order of appearance of those witnesses. The police prosecutor asks questions of witnesses and conducts cross examinations of people who are giving evidence on behalf of the defendant.

If the magistrate has questions regarding the case, he or she generally directs those questions to the police prosecutor (rather than to the witness).

Police prosecutors are also used in bail applications where the police wish to oppose the granting of bail or wish to have specific bail conditions imposed on a person charged with a crime.

A person who initiates and carries out a legal action, especially in criminal proceedings.

Remote Witness Room
Children and young people are usually able to give their evidence via CCTV (closed circuit television) from a room separate to the courtroom, called a remote witness room. This means that they don't go into court to give their evidence. Sometimes this room will be in the Children’s Witness Service and sometimes this room will be in a different part of the court building.

The remote witness room has two televisions. On one you will see the judge, and on the other you will see the lawyer asking you questions. There is a camera and microphone in the remote witness room so that the people in the court can see you and hear your evidence. When you answer questions, it is important that you speak into the microphone and look at the person asking you questions.

The defendant will be in the courtroom, but you will not see them.

Stalking intervention order
A court order made by a magistrate to protect a person from stalking.

Summary offence
The Magistrate's Court deals with many common crimes such as assault, certain drug offences and matters relating to the driving of motor vehicles. These crimes are known as summary offences. In these matters the magistrate decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The magistrate also decides the punishment for the defendant found guilty.

Summons/ Subpoena
A written legal order requiring a witness to give evidence in court or an accused person to appear in court.

A court hearing in the County Court or the Supreme Court used to decide whether a person accused of serious crimes is guilty or not guilty.

This is what a defendant or an accused person is called after they have been convicted, or found guilty, of an offence.

A barrister for the Director of Public Prosecutions who calls witnesses and presents evidence in court to show that a person is guilty.

Restraining order
A court order that can be taken out by the Director of Public Prosecutions over the offender's property. A restraining order stops the offender from getting rid of the property, hence preserving it for any future compensation order that might by made by a court.

Sentencing court
The court that decides on the penalty to be given to an offender who has been convicted of a crime.

Sentencing hearing
The hearing to decide on what punishment the accused / defendant will get.

Special hearing
Children can give their evidence at a special hearing in the County Court. Your evidence is video recorded and played to the jury at the trial later.

A lawyer who prepares a case to go to court.

A written document made and signed by a witness, telling police what they know about a crime.

A document telling a person that they must go to court to give evidence as a witness in the Supreme or County Court.

The date on the subpoena will usually be the first day of the trial. In the country, it may be the first day the Court sits in that month. It is important to check with the informant or prosecutor if this is the day you are required.

A letter telling someone that they must go to court to give evidence as a witness in the Magistrate's Court.

Support person
Young witnesses can have an adult sit with them when they give their evidence. The judge or magistrate has to agree on the support person you choose, because they can't be a witness and need to be independent of the case. Usually this person is your Child Witness Officer.

Supreme Court

This court hears the most serious cases. A judge presides over the court and a jury decides the case.

This is a person who helps the Judge in the Supreme and County Courts. You might see the Tipstaff on the screen in the remote witness room from time to time, and they will help you to take the oath/an affirmation. Sometimes a Tipstaff will sit in the remote witness room with you and your support person. The Tipstaff wears a special green coat in the County Court and grey coat in the Supreme Court. 

A court hearing held in the County Court or Supreme Court before a judge and jury. The purpose of a trial is to find out whether an accused person is guilty or not guilty of a crime. The prosecution calls witnesses to give evidence at a trial.

A decision given by a jury, which tells the court whether a person is guilty or not guilty.

A victim under the Victims' Charter Act 2006 is:

(a) a person who has suffered injury or harm (or both) as a direct result of a criminal offence, whether or not that injury or harm was reasonably foreseeable by the offender; or

(b) a family member of a person who has died as a direct result of a criminal offence committed against that person; or

(c) if the person referred to in paragraph (a) is under 18 years of age or is incapable of managing his or her own affairs because of mental impairment, a family member of that person.

For applications for financial assistance to VOCAT, the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 defines victims as:

Primary victim: a person who is injured or dies as a result of:

  • an act of violence against them or
  • trying to prevent an act of violence or
  • trying to arrest someone they reasonably believe has committed an act of violence or
  • trying to aid or rescue someone they believe is the victim of an act of violence

Secondary victim: a person who:

  • is present at the scene of an act of violence and who is injured as a direct result of witnessing that act.

A victim's statement on video.

The decision by the jury about whether they find the accused guilty or not guilty.

Victim Impact Statement
A statement you can make to tell the court how the crime has affected you. The court takes this into account when deciding the sentence for the offender.

Victim's Register
A list of victims of violent crime who want to get information about a particular adult prisoner (information such as release date or location).

Witness Assistance Service (WAS)
A service attached to the Office of Public Prosecutions that is staffed by experienced social workers. The function of this service is to provide ongoing information and support for witnesses and victims of crime going through the court system.

Witness Box
The place where people stand or sit when they are giving evidence in a court.

A witness is a person who has seen or heard something, or has had something happen to them, which a court wants to hear about. The witness attends court to answer questions about what they know. The job of the witness is very important. – is injured (eg traumatised) as a direct result of becoming aware that their child (under the age of 18 years) has been the victim of an act of violence

Related victim: If a person dies as a result of an act of violence a related victim is someone who, when the violence took place, was a close family member, a dependent or was in an intimate personal relationship with the person who has died.