What is a Respondent?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A respondent is someone who answers to a case in court. This term is commonly used in the civil sense, with a person in a similar position in a criminal case being termed the defendant. Respondents have a number of legal rights under the laws in most nations, including the right to examine evidence which is used against them, the right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to make motions and other legal filings over the course of the case in order to protect their interests.

The respondent in a civil case is usually equivalent to the defendant in a criminal case.
The respondent in a civil case is usually equivalent to the defendant in a criminal case.

In a civil suit, the person who files the suit is known as the petitioner; she or he is petitioning the court to assist with a situation in which some form of remedy, such as an award of damages, is being sought from the court. The respondent is the person the suit is filed against. By law, the respondent must be served with papers documenting the fact that a suit has been filed and providing information about when and where the suit is to be heard.

In cases where the outcome of a civil suit is appealed, either party to the suit can become a respondent. If, for example, the original suit is ruled in favor of the petitioner and the respondent files an appeal, the petitioner becomes the appellee or respondent, and the original respondent is the appellant. As in the original case, both parties enjoy certain legal rights and protections which are designed to ensure that the case is heard and decided fairly, with both parties having an opportunity to present their case.

The respondent may make a move to attempt to dismiss the case altogether under the argument that it is not valid. Failing this, other types of motions can be filed to protest the inclusion of certain types of evidence, to challenge assertions made by the opposing side, and so forth.

Respondents can opt not to contest the claim, in which case the court will issue an immediate judgment which will include an award of damages. They do have a legal right to choose to respond to a case brought against them, however, and the court must accommodate that by scheduling time for hold a trial. In some nations, high numbers of civil cases have led to the proposal of ways to create disincentives to filing suit, encouraging people to pursue alternate means of redress to free up space in the courts.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@ramcatluvr - The respondent definition is the same in the case of a restraining order. The petitioner is the person who has asked for the order and the respondent is the person who is receiving the order, or who the order has been issued against.


Would this be the same type of situation when the civil office handles a restraining order or are the definitions for a respondent different in this case?

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