Common Legal Terms

Advocate : A law graduate entered in any roll under the provisions of the Advocates Act, 1961. See

Appeals : Legal proceedings in which a case is brought to or before a higher court for the reconsideration of the decision of a lower court.

Appearance : A coming into court by a party, either in person or through an attorney.

Appellant : A person who applies to a higher court for a reversal of the decision made by a lower court.

Appellate (also see Jurisdiction) : In a court, those applications that are concerned with decisions made by a lower court.

Arrears : As per the 245th Law Commission report: Some delayed cases might be in the system for longer than the normal time, for valid reasons. Those cases that show unwarranted delay will be referred to as arrears.

Backlog : As per the 245th Law Commission report: When the institution of new cases in any given time period is higher than the disposal of cases in that time period, the difference between institution and disposal is the backlog. This figure represents the accumulation of cases in the system due to the system’s inability to dispose of as many cases as are being filed.

Case Numbe : A unique identification number for each case, made up of three components: a case type, the said number, and the year in which the case was instituted.

Case Status : The stage at which a case is, within the process in the court.

Cause List : A list issued by the registry of the matters to be heard by the court on any day. The bench, court hall number and the position of the matter are indicated. This list appears in print form in every court, and is made available on the website of several courts.

Cause of Action : The pleading that initiates a lawsuit – when a plaintiff alleges facts in a complaint.

Civil Procedure Code : Codified procedural law related to administration of Indian civil law.

Civil : That part of the law that encompasses business, contracts, estates, domestic (family) relations, accidents, negligence, and everything related to legal issues, statutes, and lawsuits, that is not criminal law.

Commissions : A commission is appointed by a court to ascertain or investigate facts needed to decide a case. A commission is usually given specific terms of reference. Members of a commission can be academics, social activists/workers, advocates, or judges.

Complaint : A group of operative facts giving rise to one or more bases for filing a case.

Court Hall : The number of a court room.

Criminal Procedure Code : The main legislation on procedure for administration of substantive criminal law in India.

Criminal : That which pertains to crimes, and requires the administration of penal justice. Involving those cases that deal with a violation of a law in which a citizen inflicts injury upon another citizen or the state. Punishable with the curtailment of liberty, via imprisonment or detention, or fines.

Date of Hearing : The date on which a case appears in the court.

Date of Institution : The date when a case is filed and registered in the court.

Delay : As per the 245th Law Commission report: A case that has been in the court or judicial system for longer than the normal time that it should take for a case of that type to be disposed of.

Disposal : The resolution of a legal matter. This could either be the dismissal or a charge, or a final judgement. Court records often specify the nature of resolution.

Dispute : A conflict of claims or rights that has given rise to the subject of litigation.

District : Local administrative units inherited from the British Raj. They generally form the tier of local government immediately below that of India’s States.

Executive : The executive is the part of the government that has sole authority and responsibility for the effecting and enforcing laws.

Fundamental Rights : A charter of rights contained in the Constitution of India. The fundamental obligations of the state to its citizens prescribed in the Constitution.

Gram Nyayalas : Instituted by the Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008, establishing village courts for speedy and easy access to justice system in the rural areas of India.

Indian Penal Code : Main criminal code of India that covers all aspects of substantive criminal law in India.

Interpretation : The process of determining the intended meaning of a written document, such as the constitution, or a statute.

Issues : The question of fact or law that is in dispute.

Judge : A public officer authorized to hear and decide cases in a court of law.

Also see Section 19 of IPC <>

Judiciary : The judiciary is one of the three main organs of the government (also known as the judicial system or court system). It is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the state.

Jurisdiction : The defined area of authority granted to a court to make pronouncements on legal matters, and administer justice.

Lawyer : A person who practices or studies law.

Legislative Assembly : The name given in some countries to either a legislature, or to one of its branch. In India, legislative assembly usually refers to the state government branch of the legislature.

Legislature : A branch of the government having the power to make laws in a country.

Litigant : A party to a lawsuit in a court.

Lok Adalats : A system of alternative dispute resolution developed in India. It roughly means “people’s court”. India has had a long history of resolving disputes through the mediation of different communities.

Notice : The legal notification by which a party or person is made aware of a legal process affecting their rights, obligations, or duties.

Orders : Direction of a court or judge normally made or entered in writing during the proceedings of a case.

Original Jurisdiction : The power of a court to hear a case for the first time.

Pendency : As per the 245th Law Commission report: All cases instituted but not disposed of, regardless of when the case was instituted.

Petition : A formal written request presented to a court of law.

Petitioner : The party who presents a petition in court of law.

Plaint : A written complaint filed in a cause of action stating accusation or charge.

Plaintiff : The party who initiates a lawsuit (also known as an action) before a court of law.

Prayer : A prayer for relief is a portion of a complaint in which the plaintiff describes the remedies that they seek from the court.

Precedents : A precedent or authority is a principle or rule established in a previous legal case that is either binding on a court or other tribunal when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts.

Procedural : Procedural law comprises the rules by which a court prescribes the steps for having a right or duty that is judicially enforced, and determines what happens in civil lawsuit, criminal or administrative proceedings.

Registry : An office of the court which receives and maintains documents for filing with the court.

Respondent : A party against whom a petition is filed. Often dealing with appeals. Can be the plaintiff or defendant from lower court.

Review : To re-examine judicially or administratively; a judicial reconsideration for purposes of correction.

Separation of Powers : A constitutional government with three separate branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial.

Special Courts : Bodies within the judicial branch of government that generally address only one area of law or have specifically defined powers.

Stage of the Case : A step in process through which a case passes.

Statute : A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs a state, city, or country. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy.

Substantive : A statutory, or written law, that creates and defines rights and duties and powers of parties, such as crimes and punishments in criminal law, civil rights and responsibilities in civil law. It is codified.

Suit : A civil action brought by a party/parties against another in a court of law.

Summons : A legal document issued by a court requiring a party or witness to appear before it.

Tribunals : A tribunal in the general sense is any person or institution with the authority to judge, adjudicate on, or determine claims or disputes.

Vakalathnama : A document by which an advocate is empowered to appear or plead before any court, tribunal or other authority on behalf of a party.

Writs : A writ is a formal written order issued by a court asking the addressee to refrain from or perform a specific act.

The following are the five types of writs.

Mandamus : An order that is issued by a court of superior jurisdiction to ask a lower court, tribunal, commission, or individual, to perform or refrain from performing an action that is required by law.

Habeas Corpus : A court order that commands an individual or a government official who has restrained another to produce the prisoner at a designated  time and place so that the court can determine the legality of custody.

Prohibition : An extraordinary writ issued by a higher court commanding an inferior court or quasi-judicial body to keep within its jurisdiction.

Quo Warranto : A writ issued with a view to restrain a person from holding a civil office to which he/she is not entitled

Certiorari : A writ issued by the Supreme Court or High Court to quash the order already passed by an inferior court, tribunal or quasi-judicial body.


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