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This legal glossary is a basic guide to common legal terms. A lawyer is in the best position to advise you about your legal rights and responsibilities.

Different terms may have different meanings based on the specific area of law or the context in which they are being used. For legal terms not referred to in this glossary, or for more comprehensive definitions, you may wish to refer to a legal dictionary or to an internet resource.

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Money claimed by, or ordered to be paid to, a person as compensation for loss or injuries.
Aggravated Damages
Damages designed to compensate a plaintiff for suffering intangible damages such as humiliation and distress, as a result of the defendant's actions.
Compensatory Damages
Damages awarded for actual loss, in order to place the plaintiff in a position that he or she would have been in had he or she not suffered the wrong complained of.
General Damages
Damages for non-monetary losses suffered by a plaintiff. These damages are not capable of exact quantification. Examples of such losses suffered include pain, suffering, and disfigurement.
Nominal Damages
Token (i.e. small) damages awarded to redress a violation of a legal right that the law deems necessary to protect, even in the absence of actual harm.
Non-Pecuniary Damages
Damages that cannot be measured in money, but nevertheless are compensated for with money (i.e., general damages).
Pecuniary Damages
Damages that can be measured in money (i.e., special damages).
Punitive Damages
Damages awarded to punish a defendant for their purposely harsh, vindictive or malicious behaviour.
Special Damages
Damages intended to compensate a plaintiff for a quantifiable monetary loss. Examples of such losses include: lost earnings, medical bills, and repair costs.
Dangerous Offender
A person who is convicted of a serious personal injury offence, as provided in the Criminal Code of Canada, and who is, after an assessment, found by a court to be at high risk to re-offend and whose risk cannot be managed in the community. Dangerous offenders are sentenced to a detention in a federal prison for an indefinite period. (see also Long-term Offender)
A person who owes money.
In family law cases, a court may assign responsibility to one or more parents for making significant decisions about a child’s life and well-being. The decisions may relate to the child’s health; education; culture, language, religion and spirituality; significant extra-curricular activities; and many other important matters in respect of the child. This was previously referred to as “custody”.
An order of the court that declares the law to require or prohibit certain conduct or that named persons have rights specified in the declaration.
Default Hearing
(see Hearing)
Default Judgment
(see Judgment)
A defendant or accused person's reason(s) why a plaintiff or a prosecutor does not have a valid case.
Defence Counsel
A lawyer who represents a defendant or accused person in a civil or criminal case.
A person sued in a civil proceeding or accused in a criminal proceeding.
Demonstrative Evidence
(see Evidence)
De Novo (Hearing)
Latin term for "new." A hearing after a decision, as if no decision had previously been made.
A person who relies on another for support. A person whom another has an obligation to support.
A person making a statement under oath or affirmation, often in an affidavit.
An affidavit or statement made under oath or affirmation.
Deputy Judge
(see Judge)
Derivative Evidence
(see Evidence)
Direct Evidence
(see Evidence)
Direct Examination
(see Examination)
A release from obligation when a legal duty has ended. In the criminal context, this is also used as an alternative sentencing option for an accused who has been found guilty. The result of a discharge is that the offender has no criminal record of a finding of guilt.
Absolute Discharge
A conviction is not entered against the accused and any information or record relating to that offence cannot be disclosed after one year from the date of the discharge order.
Conditional Discharge
A conviction is not entered against the accused if certain conditions that are imposed are met. Any information or record relating to the offence cannot be disclosed after three years from the date of the discharge order, as long as all the conditions are met.
Making information and documents known and available to a party in a proceeding. There are disclosure requirements placed on parties by law or court rules. Court records can also be disclosed to the public, subject to statutory provisions, common law rules or judicial direction restricting access to the records.
There are compulsory discovery rules by which parties to civil actions must reveal documents and information relevant to the case.
Discretionary Bench Warrant
(see Warrant)
A judicial officer's decision to terminate an action, claim, or charges.
A judicial officer's decision. (see "Judgment")
In criminal law, removal of a case from the usual process. The police or Crown attorney may divert a case if certain conditions are met. There are various formal and informal pre-charge and post-charge diversion programs. Some of these are also referred to as extrajudicial measures or sanctions.
Divisional Court
(see Court)
Division of Property
In family law cases, the division of assets and liabilities between parties after separation or death. For married parties, property is divided by equalizing the net family property of the parties.
The legal ending of a marriage by a court order.
Divorce Act
Federal statute that governs divorce in Canada, as well as parenting and contact orders and support in divorce cases.
Divorce Order
(see Order)
(1) A list of cases to be heard in a particular court room during that day. This list may be referred to as the "case event list". (2) A record of the time a lawyer spent on a particular matter.
Domestic Contract
In family law, a contract between people setting out their obligations towards and expectations of each other.
Cohabitation Agreement
Agreement by two people who are or will be cohabiting and who are not married to each other about their respective rights and obligations during cohabitation, or when they separate or die.
Marriage Contract
A contract entered into by two persons who are married to each other, or who intend to marry each other, in which they agree on their respective rights and obligations during the marriage, or in case of separation, divorce, annulment or death.
Paternity Agreement
Agreement by parents who are not spouses about the support of their child.
Separation Agreement
Agreement by two people, who cohabited and have separated, on their respective rights and obligations.
Domestic Violence
Any or all of the many different forms of abuse and mistreatment that people may experience in their intimate domestic relationships.
Someone being forced to do something through physical threats or psychological or emotional pressure.
Duty Counsel
(see Legal Aid)