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Glossary

This will help you to understand many commonly used legal terms, acronyms and phrases.

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A

Act
The written law of a country, also called a statute. An Act sets out legal rules, and has normally been passed by both Houses of Parliament in the form of a Bill and agreed to by the Crown.
Adjournment
A temporary postponement of legal proceedings.
Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council (AJTC)
The Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council keeps under review the administrative justice system as a whole with a view to making it accessible, fair and efficient. It seeks to ensure that the relationships between the courts, tribunals, ombudsmen and alternative dispute resolution providers satisfactorily reflect the needs of users.
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service aims to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. It provides up-to-date information, independent advice, high quality training and works with employers and employees to solve problems and improve performance.
Advocate
Lawyer appearing in a court of law
Advocate General, European Court of Justice (AG ECJ)
There are eight Advocates-General, who present independent and impartial legal opinions on the cases assigned to them. They can question the parties involved and then give their opinion on a legal solution to the case before the judges give their judgment. Five of the eight Advocates-General are nominated by the five big member states of the European Union: Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain. The other three positions rotate in alphabetical order between the 22 smaller member states.
Aggravating
Factors making a situation worse. For example, burglary is aggravated in the eyes of a court if the burglar is armed, or injures someone while committing the offence
Alibi
A defence that someone accused of a crime was not there at the time and could not have committed the offence.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Methods of resolving disputes which do not involve the normal trial process.
Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBO)
These are court orders which prohibit specific anti-social behaviours. An ASBO is issued for a minimum of two years, and can ban an offender from visiting certain areas, mixing with certain people or carrying on the offending behaviour. Despite being issued by a court, an ASBO is a civil order, not a criminal penalty - this means it won't appear on an individual's criminal record. However, breaching an ASBO is a criminal offence punishable by a fine or up to five years in prison.
Appeal
A formal request to a higher court that the verdict or ruling of a court be changed.
Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL)
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) is a not-for-profit organisation, which exists to fight for the rights of injured people.
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B

Bail
Release of a defendant from custody until their next appearance in court. This can be subject to security being given and/or compliance with certain conditions, such as a curfew.
Bar Council
These pages give details of the structure and role of the Council, the Bar Standards Board and their Committees, the dates of Bar Council and Bar Standards Board meetings and how to contact the Council.
Barrister
A barrister is a legal practitioner in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The name comes from the process of being called to the Bar during their training. Barristers represent individuals in court, and provide them with specialist legal advice. Barristers must usually be instructed (hired) through a solicitor, but a change to the rules in 2004 means that members of the public may now approach a barrister direct in certain circumstances.
Bill
A draft of a proposed law presented to Parliament. Once agreed by Parliament and given Royal Assent by the ruling monarch, Bills become law and are known as Acts.
Binding over See: Bound over
Bound over
Being placed under a legal obligation, for example being "bound over" to keep the peace. Failure to observe a binding order may result in a penalty.
The British and Irish Legal Information Institute provides access to the most comprehensive set of British and Irish primary legal materials that are available for free and in one place on the internet.
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C

Case law
The body of law created by judges' decisions on individual cases.
Central Criminal Court
Known as the Old Bailey after the street in London in which it is situated, the Central Criminal Court deals with major criminal cases in the Greater London area and in exceptional cases from the rest of England
Chambers
This has two meanings: a private room or courtroom from which the public are excluded, in which a judge may conduct certain sorts of hearings, for example family cases; or offices used by a barrister.
Chancery
The Chancery Division of the High Court considers matters in relation to trust law, the administration of estates, guardianship and charities.
Chancery Division See: Chancery
Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. (CAFCASS )
CAFCASS looks after the interests of children involved in proceedings in the family courts in England and Wales and works with children and their families to advise the courts on children's best interests in family cases, be that in divorce and separation, adoption, or child care and supervision proceedings.
Circuit
A circuit is the geographical area where a judge has the judicial authority to decide on cases. The jurisdiction can encompass a range of counties or districts.
Circuit judge (CJ)
A judge who normally sits in the county court and/or Crown Court.
Civil court
A court that deals with matters concerning private rights and not offences against the state.
Civil Justice Council
The Council is an advisory body put in place by law to monitor the civil justice system, and to promote its modernisation. It provides a representative voice for all those who either work in, or have cause to experience, civil justice. It is here to safeguard the future of civil justice and to ensure that it is fair, accessible, and efficient.
Civil Procedure Rules
The Civil Procedure Rules are a procedural code with the overriding objective of enabling the courts to deal with cases justly.
College of Justice of Scotland (C of J of Sc.)
A formal name of the Court of Session, Scotland's supreme civil court. The College of Justice includes advocates, solicitors, court staff and others, as well as the judges.
Compensation
A sum of money paid to make amends for loss, breakage, hardship, inconvenience or personal injury caused by another.
Constitutional Reform Act (CRA 2005)
The Constitutional Reform Act was granted Royal Assent on March 24 2005. It concerned establishing an independent judiciary, the reformation of the role of Lord Chancellor and the establishment of the Lord Chief Justice as head of the judiciary of England and Wales. It also created the new Supreme Court and a new system for the appointment of judges by establishing the Judicial Appointments Commission as well as an Office of Judicial Complaints and Conduct Ombudsman.
Constitutional Reform Act 2005 See: Constitutional Reform Act
Contempt of court
An offence that can lead to a fine and even imprisonment because of a lack of respect or obedience by an individual in a court of law. You are also in contempt of court if you disobey an injunction or court order.
Council on Tribunals
The Council on Tribunals supervises the constitution and working of tribunals and inquiries in England, Scotland and Wales, seeking to ensure they are open, fair and impartial. It was replaced in November 2007 by the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council.
Counsel See: Barrister
Court of Appeal (CA)
The Court of Appeal is based at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, but has occasional sittings elsewhere in England and Wales. It consists of a Civil Division and a Criminal Division, which between them hear appeals in a wide range of cases covering civil, family and criminal justice. In some cases a further appeal lies, with leave, to the Supreme Court, but in practice the Court of Appeal is the final court of appeal for the great majority of cases.
Criminal Justice System Online
If you have come into contact with the criminal justice system as a victim of crime, a witness, juror or you have been accused or convicted of a crime then this site can help.
Crown Court
The Crown Court deals with more serious criminal cases such as murder, rape or robbery, some of which are on appeal or referred from magistrates' courts. Trials are heard by a judge and a 12 person jury.
Culpability
Blame
Curfew
A legal order confining someone to their home, sometimes for set times of the day.
Custodial sentence
Where an offender is confined to a prison or young offenders' institution for a set period of time.
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D

DBE (DBE)
Dame of the British Empire
Defendant
A person who appears in court because they are being sued, standing trial or appearing for sentence.
Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is a piece of legislation that promotes civil rights for disabled people and protects disabled people from discrimination. You can order a copy of the Act in a range of formats.
Disclosure
A three-tiered system in criminal proceedings which ensures vital information on both sides of a court case can be seen by all parties: * Primary disclosure is the duty of the prosecutor to disclose material to the defence which undermines the case against the accused. Primary disclosure is triggered where the accused faces trial in a magistrates' court and pleads not guilty, or the case is transferred for trial by jury; * A defence statement sets out the general nature of the defence, indicating matters on which the accused takes issues with the prosecution and why. A defence statement is compulsory for an accused facing trial by jury, and is optional for an accused facing a summary trial; * Secondary disclosure takes place as soon as possible after receiving a defence statement, and provides details of any information which had not previously been disclosed and which might reasonably be expected to assist the accused's defence as set out in the defence statement. In civil proceedings, all relevant documents have to be disclosed unless they are governed by privilege (see privilege below).
District judge
District Judges sit throughout England and Wales in the county courts and District Registries of the High Court. They try the majority of civil claims although those over £25,000 may be heard either by a circuit judge or by a district judge. Most housing, repossession and insolvency cases, as well as the assessment of damages, are heard by district judges. In relation to family proceedings, district judges deal with divorce and the dissolution of civil partnerships as well as the financial consequences of family separation; the jurisdiction to determine cases involving children is shared with the High Court bench, circuit judges and Family Proceedings Courts.
District Judge (Magistrates' Courts) (DJ MC)
Known as stipendiary magistrates before 2000, district judges are full-time members of the judiciary and deal with a broad range of cases appearing before magistrates' courts - especially the lengthier and more complex criminal cases and care cases relating to children. They may sit with lay magistrates or alone.
Draft Bill
An early version of a proposed Bill before it is introduced into Parliament.
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E

Embezzlement
Dishonestly appropriating another's assets for one's own use
European Court of Human Rights
In addition to laying down a catalogue of civil and political rights and freedoms, the European Convention on Human Rights set up a mechanism for the enforcement of the obligations entered into by contracting states. Three institutions were entrusted with this responsibility: the European Commission of Human Rights (set up in 1954), the European Court of Human Rights (set up in 1959) and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the latter organisation being composed of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the member states or their representatives.
European Court of Justice
The Court of Justice cooperates with all the courts of the member states, which are the ordinary courts in matters of European Community law. To ensure the effective and uniform application of Community legislation and to prevent divergent interpretations, the national courts may, and sometimes must, refer to the Court of Justice and ask it to clarify a point concerning the interpretation of Community law, so that they may ascertain, for example, whether their national legislation complies with that law. A reference for a preliminary ruling may also seek the review of the validity of an act of Community law.
ex officio
Describes someone who has a right (for example, to sit on a committee) because of an office held. The term comes from the Latin for "from the office", and is used in the sense of 'by right of office held'.
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F

Fraud
An act or instance of deception
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G

Gavel
A small mallet used to signal for attention. One of the most famous symbols of the judiciary, but ironically, they are not actually used in English or Welsh courtrooms.
Gray's Inn
One of the four Inns of Court based in London which every barrister in England and Wales must belong to before they are called to the Bar.
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H

Hearing
Proceedings held before a court.
High Court
A civil court consisting of three divisions: the Queen's Bench, which deals with civil disputes including breach of contract, personal injuries, commercial and building cases, libel or slander; Family, which is concerned with matrimonial matters and proceedings relating to children or adults who cannot make decisions for themselves; and Chancery, which deals with property matters including fraud and bankruptcy.
High Court - Chancery Division (HC CD)
The Chancery Division of the High Court is presided over by The Chancellor and around 20 High Court judges. There is some overlap with the Queen's Bench Division, however certain matters are specifically assigned to the Chancery Division. The principal business of judges who sit in the Chancery Division is corporate and personal insolvency disputes, business, trade and industry disputes, the enforcement of mortgages, intellectual property matters, copyright and patents, disputes relating to trust property and contentious probate actions.
High Court - Family Division (HC FD)
Judges who sit in the Family Division of the High Court have jurisdiction to hear the most complex cases relating to children, and exercises an exclusive jurisdiction in wardship. Judges in the High Court also hear appeals from family proceedings courts and cases transferred from the county courts or family proceedings courts.
High Court - Queen's Bench Division (HC QBD)
The Queen's Bench Division of the High Court has both a criminal and civil jurisdiction. Judges who sit in the civil jurisdiction deal with 'common law' business i.e. actions relating to contract except those specifically allocated to the Chancery Division, and civil wrongs (known as tort). They also hear more specialist matters, such as applications for judicial review. Judges hearing the criminal cases of the QBD also deal at first instance with the more serious criminal cases heard in the Crown Court and, relatively early in their careers can be appointed to hear serious criminal matters in Crown Court centres out of London (known as being "on circuit") . Examples of contract cases dealt with by Queen's Bench Division judges are failure to pay for goods and service and breach of contract.
High Court Judge
A judge who sits in the High Court of Justice.
High Court of Northern Ireland (HC NI)
The High Court of Northern Ireland is constituted and governed by Northern Ireland law. Like its England and Wales equivalent, the court is split into three: the Queen's Bench Division, the Family Division and the Chancery Division. The High Court is located in the Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast.
Home Office
The government department responsible for internal affairs, including crime, in England and Wales.
Hon Society of Gray's Inn See: Gray's Inn
Hon Society of Inner Temple See: Inner Temple
Hon Society of Lincoln's Inn See: Lincoln's Inn
Hon Society of Middle Temple See: Middle Temple
House of Lords (HL)
The House of Lords is the upper house, but the Second chamber, of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and is also commonly referred to as "the Lords". Until October 2009, the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (‘the Law Lords’) heard appeals and judgments as the highest appeal court in the UK. This jurisdiction has now passed to the UK’s Supreme Court.
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I

In camera
The vast majority of hearings in England and Wales are held in open court, with members of the public free to enter the courtroom and observe proceedings. Some sensitive cases, such as family matters, may be held "in camera", which means 'in the chamber' or in private.
In chambers, in private See: In camera
Inner Temple
One of the four Inns of Court based in London which every barrister in England and Wales must belong to before they are called to the Bar.
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J

Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC)
An independent body that was introduced by the Constitutional Reform Act which selects candidates for judicial positions in England and Wales and for some tribunals in Scotland and Northern Island. There are fifteen commissioners who are chosen from the judiciary, the legal profession, the magistracy and the general public.
Judiciary
Collective term for the judges, magistrates and tribunal members who deal with legal matters in England and Wales and, in the case of some tribunals, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Jury
A body of citizens, normally twelve people, who are sworn in by the judge and asked to give a verdict on a case in a court of law.
Justice of the Peace (JP)
The official title of a magistrate. Charged with defending the peace of the area they deal with minor criminal matters and misdemeanours and preside in only the lowest courts.
Justices of the Peace See: Justice of the Peace
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L

Law Commission
Independent body set up by Parliament to review and recommend reform of the law in England and Wales.
Law Lord
The unofficial title of the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary. The Law Lords were promoted from the Court of Appeal England and Wales, or their equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland, to sit in the House of Lords, the highest judicial body for the United Kingdom until the creation of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
Lawyer
General term for someone practising law, such as a solicitor or barrister.
Lawyer See: Advocate
Lincoln's Inn
One of the four Inns of Court based in London which every barrister in England and Wales must belong to before they are called to the Bar.
Lord Chancellor
Formerly the head of the judiciary the Lord Chancellor’s role was drastically altered by the introduction of the Constitutional Reform Act in 2005 when it was combined with the role of the Secretary of State for Justice. The current Lord Chancellor deals with the courts system, prisons, probation and constitutional affairs as well as involvement in ceremonial duties such as the opening of Parliament.
Lord Chief Justice (LCJ)
Head of the judiciary of England and Wales and President of the Courts of England and Wales. Scotland's most senior judge is the Lord President, who always holds the title of Lord Justice General, although the holder of this post does not take responsibility for the entire judiciary, and Northern Ireland has its own Lord Chief Justice.
Lord Justice-General of Scotland (LJ of Sc)
The Lord Justice-General is head of the judiciary in Scotland, and Presiding Judge (and Senator) of the College of Justice and Court of Session.
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M

Magistrate
Magistrates are members of the public who voluntarily give up their time to preside over magistrates' courts. They need have no formal legal qualifications, although they are trained in court procedures.
Magistrates' court
The magistrates’ courts are a key part of the criminal justice system – virtually all criminal cases start in a magistrates’ court and over 95% of cases are also completed here. In addition, magistrates’ courts deal with many civil cases, mostly family matters plus liquor licensing and betting and gaming work. Cases in the magistrates’ courts are usually heard by panels of three magistrates (Justices of the Peace), of which there are around 30 000 in England and Wales.
Master of the Rolls (MoR)
The Master of the Rolls is one of the Heads of Division. He or she is also the leading judge dealing with the civil work of the Court of Appeal, presiding over the most difficult and sensitive cases. As a Head of Division and Member of the Privy Council, the Master of the Rolls is given the prefix 'Right Honourable'.
Mediation
Process taking place outside a court to resolve a dispute.
Middle Temple
One of the four Inns of Court based in London which every barrister in England and Wales must belong to before they are called to the Bar.
Ministry of Justice (MoJ)
The Ministry of Justice was established on the 9th May 2007. It has responsibility for the courts, sentencing, prisons, rehabilitation plus former DCA policies like voting, crown dependencies, human rights, tribunals and freedom of information.
Mitigating
Arguments made on behalf of a defendant who has admitted or been found guilty of an offence, in order to excuse or partly excuse the offence committed and attempt to minimise the sentence.
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O

Office for Judicial Complaints (OJC)
The Office for Judicial Complaints supports the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice in their joint responsibility for the system of judicial complaints and discipline. They seek to ensure that all judicial disciplinary issues are dealt with consistently, fairly and efficiently.
Old Bailey The Old Bailey See: Central Criminal Court
Open court
The vast majority of hearings in England and Wales are held in open court, with members of the public free to enter the courtroom and observe proceedings. Some sensitive cases, such as family matters, may be held "in camera", which means 'in the chamber' or in private.
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P

Plea and case management hearings
A preliminary hearing, before a judge at a Crown Court, where the accused may indicate whether or not they plan to plead guilty and have the chance to argue that there is insufficient evidence for the case to go before a jury. Directions are also given on matters such as what evidence will be admitted.
Policy
The Government sets out its policy on a wide range of issues, for example through manifesto pledges and in response to events or changes in society. In a lot of cases, after consultation, they will then look to make this policy law by placing a Bill before Parliament.
Practice Direction
Practice Directions are directions which deal with a specific practice or procedures (for example, the use of expert evidence, or a certain form, or the setting of costs) relating to a particular court. They need to be read in conjunction with the overall Court Rules in order to have a better understanding of how the Court operates. They are written in plain English although it is legal professionals who will mainly consider Practice Directions.
Preferment
Advancing to a higher rank; another term for promotion.
President of the Family Division (PFD)
The President of the Family Division of the High Court and Head of Family Justice presides over cases in the Court of Appeal, and is also administrative head of the Family Division of the High Court. Based at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the Family Division hears some of the most sensitive cases to come before the courts, especially those involving children and young persons.
Pre-trial hearing
A short court hearing at which a judge considers how ready all parties in a case may be for the trial and fixes a timetable where necessary.
Privilege
The right of a party to refuse to disclose a document or produce a document or to refuse to answer questions on the ground of some special interest recognised by law.
Probate
The legal recognition of the validity of a will.
Prosecution
The beginning or conduct of criminal proceedings against a person.
Protocol
Occasionally, senior judges will set out protocols or guidance for the way in which criminal cases should be handled. For example they may share good practice, which can help judges to reduce delays in court proceedings.
Pupillage
Pupillage is the final stage of training to be a barrister. It usually takes a year to complete, with the year divided into two six-month periods spent in a set of chambers.
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Q

Queen's Counsel (QC)
Barristers and solicitors with sufficient experience and knowledge can apply to become Queen's Counsel. QCs undertake work of an important nature and are referred to as 'silks', a name derived from the black court gown that is worn. QCs will, of course, be known as King's Counsel if a king assumes the throne.
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R

Recorder
A Recordership appointment, which carries almost the same powers as a circuit judge, is made by The Queen, and lasts for five years. Recorders generally sit for between four and six weeks a year, and normally spend the rest of the time in private practice as barristers or solicitors.
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S

Senior District Judge (Chief Magistrate)
The Chief Magistrate is responsible for: hearing many of the sensitive, long or complex cases in the magistrates’ courts and in particular extradition and special jurisdiction cases; supporting and guiding District Judge (Magistrates’ Court) colleagues; liaising with the senior judiciary and Presiding Judges on matters relating on Magistrates’ Courts and District Judges (Magistrates’ Court)
Sentencing Council
An independent body consisting of a Chairman, seven judges and six non-judicial members who develop sentencing guidelines and monitor the application of the guidelines by judges in court
Solicitor
A solicitor is a lawyer who provides clients with expert legal advice and assistance and prepares legal documents. He or she might work in a law firm or in central or local government, or an in-house legal department, for example, a bank or corporation.
Statutory law
A law that has been passed by an Act of Parliament.
Summary trial
Trial taking place in a Magistrates' court.
Supreme Court
The Supreme Court was created under the terms of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, and completes the separation of the UK's legal and judicial systems. Justices of the Supreme Court will no longer be able to sit or vote in the House of Lords. Slightly confusingly, the High Court and Court of Appeal were originally parts of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. With the creation of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the English and Welsh Supreme Court was renamed the Senior Courts of England and Wales.
Suspended sentence
A custodial sentence, but one which will not result in time spent in custody unless another offence is committed within a specified period.
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T

The Bar
Barristers are "called to the Bar" when they have finished their training, and as a result are then allowed to represent clients. The Bar is also a collective term for all barristers, represented by the General Council of the Bar.
The Bench
Judges or magistrates sitting in court are collectively known as "the Bench".
The Crown
The institution of the monarchy, or the historical power of the monarchy, usually exercised today through government and courts. It is the Crown which brings all criminal cases to court, via the Crown Prosecution Service.
The Crown Court
The Crown Court deals with all crime committed for trial by magistrates' courts. Cases for trial are heard before a judge and jury. The Crown Court also acts as an appeal court for cases heard and dealt with by magistrates.
The Judicial Executive Board (JEB)
The Board provides leadership, direction and support to the judiciary of England and Wales. It comprises the Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls, President of the Queen’s Bench Division, President of the Family Division, Chancellor of the High Court, and two Lords Justices
The Lord Chancellor See: Lord Chancellor
Tort
A civil wrong committed against a person for which compensation may be sought through a civil court, eg personal injury, negligent driving or libel.
Tribunal
Tribunals are an important part of the judicial system, but function outside of courtrooms. There are almost 100 different tribunals in England and Wales, each dedicated to a specific area - from pensions appeals to asylum and VAT matters. It is an extremely diverse system - the largest tribunal hears over 300,000 cases a year, while some rarely sit. Some are based on a presidential structure, while some are regional; some panels are legally qualified, some are not. Some tribunals are very formal, with legal representation common, but many are not.
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U

Upheld
Where an appeal against a judicial decision ends with the original ruling being maintained.
Uphold See: Upheld
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V

Vice Chancellor (VC)
The Chancellor of the High Court - known as the Vice Chancellor prior to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 - is the president of the Chancery Division of the High Court and vice-president of the Court of Protection.
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W

Ward of court
A minor (under 18) who is the subject of a wardship order. The order ensures that the court has custody, with day-to-day care carried out by an individual(s) or local authority. As long as the minor remains a ward of court, all decisions regarding the minor's upbringing must be approved by the court, e.g. transfer to a different school, or medical treatment.
Wardship
A High Court action making a minor a ward of court.
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Y

Youth Justice Board (YJB)
The Youth Justice Board for England and Wales oversees the youth justice system and works to prevent offending and reoffending by children and young people under the age of 18, to ensure that custody for them is safe, secure, and to address the causes of their offending behaviour.
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