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You can print this checklist as it may help you when you are reading your legal document.
If you need more help reading your document, call
Who is it from?
A letter or court document would be sent to or served on (given to) you. Knowing who it is from is the first step in understanding what it is saying.
Is it in reply to anything?
A letter might refer to a previous letter from you. If this is the case, you would know that it is in response to something you said.
A court document that is served on you might be in response to a court document that you served. For example, it might be a Defence to a Statement of Claim. In that case, you will need to look at the original document you served to understand what the document you have received is saying.
Headings and reference numbers
Check for any headings, to help you understand what the document is about.
Headings may refer to the names of the parties to the case or to court case numbers and reference numbers.
What does the document mean?
The type of document can tell you what it means.
A Statement of Claim means a court case has been started against you.
A letter of demand means that someone thinks you owe them money.
A Subpoena means you have to go to court, or provide the court with documents.
An Act of Parliament explains what the law is.
What are the issues?
Make a dot point list of all the issues the document raises.
Does it mention any relevant law, and if so, what law?
Does it mention past incidents, and if so, what are they?
Do you need to do anything?
A letter might ask for a response.
A court document might need you to serve another court document or evidence by a particular time.
A court document might explain when and where you have to attend court.
A fine will require a payment, or an election to go to court, by a particular date.
Are there any time limits?
A letter might give you a certain time to respond by, or to pay an amount of money demanded.
There might be a time limit for responding to a court document. For example, a Defence must be filed within 28 days of being served with a Statement of Claim.
Do you agree with part or all of the document?
Do you agree with what the document is saying?
Separate the points you agree with from the points you disagree with.
Legal words, phrases and Latin
Legal documents often contain words and phrases that are not easily understood by non-lawyers.
Legal documents may also contain Latin phrases that can be confusing.
For a list of commonly used legal words, phrases and Latin words, see
Reading legal documents.
Use a dictionary
If you don't understand any words or phrases, use a dictionary.
There are legal dictionaries available for common legal words, including Latin.
Representing Yourself has a
Legal Dictionary for words used on this site.
You can also access dictionaries and legal dictionaries in your local library. Go to the
LIAC website for more information.