Glossary of Basic Legal Terms and Institutions

Please note these definitions are for general guidance only. Consult a licensed lawyer for specific legal advice.

Access to Information Act: “The purpose of this Act is to extend the present laws of Canada to provide a right of access to information in records under the control of a government institution in accordance with the principles that government information should be available to the public, that necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific and that decisions on the disclosure of government information should be reviewed independently of government.” (Government of Canada, 2013:
Affidavit: A written legal document, comprised of a statement or declaration of facts that are sworn to be true by the author.
Book of Authorities: A court document that is composed of previous court decisions, statutes and legal books, which relate to the case to and establish precedence.
Canadian Human Rights Act: The Canadian Human Rights Act is legislation passed by the Canadian government in 1977; the expressed goal of the legislation was to extend legal protection to ensure ‘equal opportunity’ to individuals who may be victim to discriminatory practices. The Canadian Human Rights Act set prohibited grounds of discrimination which include: race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted. The Canadian Human Rights Act applies throughout Canada and is subject to activities that are regulated by the federal government.
Canadian Human Rights Commission: The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) is an independent body that was established in 1977 by the Canadian government in conjunction with the Canada Human Rights Act. The CHRC is responsible for ensuring that equal opportunity and non-discrimination are followed in all areas of federal jurisdiction. The CHRC investigate and attempts to settle complaints of discrimination, and acts as an advocate to promote human rights and equal opportunity.
Canadian Human Rights Tribunal: The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) is an administrative tribunal established in 1977 by the Canadian Human Rights Act. The CHRT is directly funded by the Parliament of Canada, and is independent of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which refers cases to it for adjudication. The Tribunal holds hearings to investigate complaints of discriminatory practices, and has the authority to order respondents to crease a practice as well as levy fines. (See Process of Judicial Review for appeal procedures concerning CHRT rulings’).
Client-Solicitor Privilege: A lawyer is obligated to keep any information or conversations confidential at the request of his/her client. 
Disclosure: The Crown is obligated to inform the accused of any evidence that will be used (against the accused or to assist the accused), even if this information will not be used at trial. 
Exhibit: Evidence that can physically be shown/demonstrated, such as papers and photos. 
Expert Witness: An individual who specializes in a subject and is able to give explanations to the jury about evidence. The expert witness is also allowed to give their opinion, unlike witnesses.
Factum: A written legal document prepared by a party to a Court proceeding arguing their position.
Grounds for Judicial Review: A mistake in a court proceeding concerning a ‘matters of law’ provides grounds for a review of the judgment rendered in the proceeding. The nature of the error dictates the availability of legal remedy, generally ‘errors of law’, which are erroneous applications of law will void or reverse the judgment given at the lower court. If the party claiming that an error of law’ has occurred and is prejudicial to the outcome of the case or to the party’s rights the ruling will most likely be deemed reversible.
Judicial Review: The process where a higher court is asked to rule on the appropriateness or re-examine the previous decision of a lower court or tribunal. (See Grounds for Judicial Review and Judicial Organization for further information)
Judicial Review Process: Judicial review is a fundamental principle of administrative law where ‘errors of law’ (mistakes made in the use of law) can be challenged and reversed at higher levels of the court. The diagram on the right illustrates the organization of the Canadian court system, where decisions of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal are reviewable by the Federal Court of Canada. Federal Court decisions can then be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada.
Lay Witness: A person who testifies under oath and presents evidence and information related to the case without giving their opinion unlike expert witnesses. 
Mandamus: An order from a higher court (see diagram; Judicial Organization), which commands a lower court or tribunal to perform a legal duty or action (for example, forcing a court to rule on a case).

Diagram of Judicial Organization of Canadian Federal Court

Judicial Organization of Canadian Federal Court

Motion: The process used to make a request to a judge for an order before, during, or after the trial proceedings.
Notice of Application: A document, which is submitted to the court by a party applying for a court order.
Party: The people or entities that are involved in a lawsuit or legal proceeding.
  • Complainant - The party bringing a legal complaint against another party.
  • Respondent - The party in which the claim is against.
  • Interested Party - A party whose interests will be directly effected by the close connection to the case and who should be included if at all feasible.
Privacy Act: “a law to protect the privacy of individuals and right of access to personal information about themselves in government files” (Vancouver Community College, 2009)
Right of Reply: The right to defend oneself against public criticism in the same venue the acquisitions are made.
Ruling: A court or administrative decision on a case or legal question.
Subpoena: A document that obligates a person to be a witness in court.
Statement of Particulars: A document submitted by all parties containing information relevant to the case including their position in the proceedings, the facts/arguments, all documents and other materials that will be used in the case, names of witnesses and names of expert witnesses. The complainants may also submit what outcome they would like to see (“remedy”).