M, N, O

  • maintenance -

    Money paid to a person to financially support them. When a couple has separated both parents have a duty to support their children, and a court can order a parent to make regular payments to support the children. Maintenance for a spouse is now less common, and must be applied for within 12 months of a divorce. It is usually covered in a final settlement of all property.

  • malice -

    A desire to cause harm to someone, in a criminal act of by defamation.

  • mandamus -

    An order made by the Supreme Court requiring a lower court, government body or official to do something that they have a duty to do. For example, the court might order a minister to reconsider an application for a new broadcasting licence they have failed to consider properly.

  • mandatory -

    Required by law to be done; a law that must be strictly complied with. Under mandatory reporting, people in particular jobs to tell a government agency if they know an offence is being committed – for example, doctors and teachers must report child abuse. Mandatory sentencing requires judges to give an automatic jail term for certain offences.

  • marriage -

    A voluntary, formal and legally binding agreement between two people to have a permanent relationship together. There must be a statement in front of official witnesses who register the marriage with the authorities. See also cohabitation; de facto; divorce; domestic relationship.

  • material -

    Relevant or important. For example, material evidence is something that helps to prove an argument in a criminal case.

  • material form -

    Any form of storage from which a copyright work can be reproduced.

  • McKenzie Friend -

    The general term used to describe a person who sits with and assists a party in court proceedings if they do not have any legal representation and the court agrees. They assist by taking notes and offering quiet advice. See also litigation guardian; next friend.

  • means test -

    A list of requirements that a person must meet to qualify for a benefit such as a pension or other financial assistance. Means tests generally take into account a person’s income and assets.

  • mediation -

    A form of alternative dispute resolution where an independent person (a mediator) is appointed to help the parties come to agreement. Mediators do not decide the outcome of the dispute. They help the parties consider the issues and best possible outcome. Parties may choose to use mediation instead of going to court, or the court may order the parties to go to mediation as a way of avoiding a court hearing. See also arbitration; conciliation; negotiation.

  • mens rea -

    The mental part of a crime that the prosecution must prove in a trial. For example, an intention to steal is the mens rea for the crime of theft. There is also a physical part of a crime, known as actus reus, that must be proved by the prosecution. A crime may have more than one mental element, such as intention, recklessness, negligence, dishonesty, or malice.

  • mention date -

    The first day on which a criminal matter is brought before a Magistrates’ Court. On that day, a person tells the court whether they will plead guilty or not guilty to a criminal charge. A case can only be finalised on the mention day if it is a plea of guilty.

  • merchantable quality -

    Being in good enough condition to be sold. Under Australian consumer protection laws, goods must be of merchantable quality.

  • minor -

    In Victoria, a child or young person under 18. See also infant.

  • misleading or deceptive conduct -

    Something done by a manufacturer or seller that is unfair, dishonest or likely to mislead a consumer when buying goods or services.

  • misrepresentation -

    Making a statement or doing something that is false, to try to get someone to do something they would not otherwise do, for example buy goods of poor quality.

  • mitigating circumstances -

    Circumstances which reduce the sanction a court will order for committing an offence, or the amount of damages a court will order against a civil defendant.

  • moral rights -

    The rights of the creator, not the owner, of an artistic, dramatic or literary work or film to have their authorship acknowledged and to protect the integrity of the work or film. For example, the right not to have someone else’s signature added to their work, or have changes made to it so that it expresses a different idea.

  • mortgage -

    A restriction attached to ownership of property to secure the repayment of money borrowed. The mortgage stops the owner of the property selling it until they have paid off the debt.

  • mortgagee -

    A person or body, such as a bank, that lends money secured by a mortgage over the property of the borrower.

  • mortgagor -

    A person who borrows money and signs a mortgage as security. The money is often lent to buy something valuable, such as real estate, and the mortgage is a debt over that property.

  • native title -

    The interests and rights of Indigenous Australians to their traditional land. This title is not the same as a certificate of title. It is a connection to land under traditional laws and customs that has not been interrupted by later settlement and permits use of the land for traditional purposes.

  • natural justice -

    Rules that courts, other dispute settlement bodies and government officials must follow to ensure that decisions are fair to all parties. Examples include the requirement that decision-makers act fairly, without bias, and the right of all parties involved in a case to present their side of a dispute. See also administrative law.

  • necessaries -

    Things such as food and basic clothes that the law says are needed for people to live a reasonable life. A minor, in Victoria someone under 18 years old, cannot enter a legally enforceable contract, except for necessaries. 

  • negligence -

    An act that breaches a duty to take reasonable care and results in loss or damage to another person. See also tort.

  • negotiable instrument -

    A signed document, such as a cheque, that transfers money from person to person.

  • negotiation -

    An approach to dispute resolution where both parties discuss the matter in dispute between them, with the aim of reaching a settlement through a consensus, compromise or agreement. See ADR (alternative dispute resolution); arbitration; conciliation; mediation.

  • next friend -

    A person who brings a court action on behalf of a child or a person of unsound mind. See also litigation guardian;independent witness;McKenzie Friend.

  • nominal damages -

    A small amount of damages a court can order a defendant to pay when a right has been violated but no real damage of monetary value has been done to the plaintiff. For example, a person can sue for trespass if a person goes onto their property without permission. The court would order nominal damages if no harm was done to the property.

  • nominee -

    (1) A person put forward as a candidate for an elected position. (2) A person chosen to act on behalf of someone else. See also agent.

  • non-custodial sentence -

    A sentence for a criminal offence that does not involve imprisonment. The offender would normally be sentenced to a form of rehabilitation. See also ICO (intensive correction order).

  • non-parole period -

    The minimum period that a person must spend in prison before they are eligible to be released on parole. See also parole.

  • notice of defence -

    In a civil case, a document that a defendant must give to a plaintiff informing them that they will defend the lawsuit against them, and the reasons why.

  • notional earnings -

    The amount of money a person is expected to earn in a week. If a person does not work, the court calculates how much the person would be capable of earning if they did work.

  • nuisance -

    Doing something that stops another person fully using and enjoying land they own or occupy. For example, someone burning off smelly rubbish in their backyard might ruin a neighbour’s enjoyment of their garden. See also private nuisance; public nuisance.

  • oath -

    A person’s promise when they swear to tell the truth in court, or when signing an affidavit. A person taking an oath places one hand on the Bible or other holy book to demonstrate how seriously they take their promise. See also affirmation.

  • obiter dictum -

    Words said or written by a judge, when deciding a court case, which are not necessary for the decision. For example, a judge in the Supreme Court of Victoria might say in passing that the law on theft in the United Kingdom is not the same as the law on theft in Victoria. Since the Supreme Court is not bound by United Kingdom law, the judge’s comment about it is not necessary for the court’s decision.

  • offence -

    A criminal act prohibited by state or commonwealth criminal law. An offence is either a summary offence (minor) or an indictable offence (serious).

  • offender -

    A person who has committed a crime.

  • offer -

    The first step in agreeing to make a legally binding agreement. An offer must be accepted before there can be a legally enforceable contract. For example, a person can offer to sell their car for $5000 and a buyer can accept the offer and pay that purchase price.

  • ombudsman -

    A public official appointed to investigate citizens’ complaints against government departments and statutory authorities. A specialised ombudsman resolves consumer complaints in a particular industry, for example the banking ombudsman for the banking industry. See also statutory authority.

  • on their own undertaking -

    When a person is released on bail without having a surety to vouch for them. They just have to promise they will attend court on a specified date. See also recognisance.

  • order nisi -

    An order that will come into force at the end of a stated period unless a specified event happens. See also decree absolute;decree nisi.

  • Orders-in-Council -

    Laws made by the Governor-in-Council, or at the federal level, by the Governor-General-in-Council. They are made under the authority of relevant Acts of Parliament and may also be known as regulations. See delegated legislation.

  • originating motion -

    The application that starts a court proceeding. The process, which is different for different courts, is set out in rules made by the court. Also called the originating process.

  • own motion -

    Decision by a body to take action, such as starting an investigation, without a complaint having been made. For example, a court can, ‘of its own motion’, without being asked by the parties in a case, find a person guilty of contempt of court.

  • owners corporation -

    A body corporate created by regis­tration of a plan of subdivision or a plan of strata or cluster subdivision. See also prescribed owners corporation.

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