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This page explains some commonly-used legal terms.
Appeal: A challenge to a decision of a lower authority that is brought before a higher authority. For example, a High Court decision might be appealed to the Court of Appeal.
Appellant: Someone who appeals a decision.
Applicant: Someone who makes an application.
Bankrupt: A ‘natural person’ (rather than a corporation) who has been found to be insolvent by failing to pay a debt and ‘adjudicated bankrupt’.
Bankruptcy: An insolvency process where the Official Assignee (a government agent) takes control of a bankrupt person’s property with a view to repaying that person’s creditors. There are some restrictions on what someone can do while bankrupt.
Civil proceeding: A case run through a court or tribunal that does not involve criminal prosecution.
Court of Appeal: A court with jurisdiction to hear appeals from courts including the High Court.
Defendant: A person a court case is against.
Discovery: A process of identifying and disclosing documents that relate to a court case.
Disputes Tribunal: a tribunal with jurisdiction to hear disputes involving claims of up to $15,000, or $20,000 where the parties agree to extend jurisdiction.
District Court: A court with jurisdiction to deal with certain claims of up to $200,000.
Employment Court: A court with jurisdiction to deal with issues to do with employment and challenges to determinations of the Employment Relations Authority.
Employment Relations Authority: An authority with jurisdiction to deal with issues to do with employment.
Evidence: Something that may prove a fact.
Fixture: A scheduled court date such as a hearing or trial.
Gazette: A regular government publication reporting official matters such as statutory regulations, proclamations, orders in council and public notices.
Hearing: A fixture to argue issues.
High Court: A New Zealand court of unlimited jurisdiction.
Inspection: Reviewing documents that have been ‘discovered’ in the course of a court case.
Jurisdiction: The authority of a court or tribunal to deal with a case.
Liquidation: An insolvency process where a ‘liquidator’ is appointed to take control of a corporation with a view to repaying that corporation’s creditors.
Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal: A tribunal with jurisdiction to deal with disputes involving motor vehicles and claims of up to $100,000.
Natural justice: A concept incorporating certain minimum standards of a fair hearing. These include an unbiased decision maker who makes a decision on the merits of a case, an opportunity to put the case forward and respond to opposing argument.
Natural persons: Human people rather than corporations (which can be regarded as ‘artificial’ or ‘legal’ persons).
Negligence: In a civil context, the breach of a duty of care that causes a reasonably foreseeable loss.
Oath: A promise to tell the truth.
Obiter dictum: A Latin phrase that means “a remark in passing”. Remarks made in a judgment that do not affect the decision in that judgment are ‘obiter dicta’.
Open Court: A court is ‘open’ where the general public may enter it and watch what goes on.
Plaintiff: The person who begins a court case.
Pleading: A written statement of position about a case such as a statement of claim, statement of defence and statement in reply.
Proceeding: A court case.
Ratio decidendi: A Latin phrase that means “reason for deciding”. The ‘ratio decidendi’ in a judgment is the reason why the judgment is what it is, or the ‘rule in the case’.
Respondent: The person who responds to an application or appeal.
Statement of Claim: A document used to commence a court case. A statement of claim may be filed and served together with a notice of proceeding in the District and High Courts.
Supreme Court: The court of final appeal in New Zealand.
Tenancy Tribunal: A tribunal with jurisdiction to deal with issues to do with residential tenancies.
Unliquidated damages: Losses that cannot be precisely calculated or figured out by reference to other information. Damage to reputation caused by defamation is an example.
Vexatious proceeding: A case filed purely to annoy or oppress.
Without prejudice: A statement that is not to be taken to affect the legal position of the person making it. Statements made without prejudice may be privileged.
Witness: Someone who gives evidence.