It seems that there is perhaps a trend toward less adversarial terminology, so I wonder if it is that defendant was a more traditional term used exclusively historically, while Respondent has now begun to be used in some contexts as a reflection of this trend toward less adversarial terminology.

Is this at all accurate of a description of how that split has come to be?

In any event, what contexts tend to use which term nowadays? And why?

1 Answer 1


Defendant is normally used as the opposing party to a plaintiff, in a civil cause of action. It also refers to the accused in a criminal matter.

Respondent is normally used as the responding party to an applicant, in motions, in certain statutory relief, relief based in judicial review, etc. It is also used to refer to the opposing party to petitioners in various statutory and equitable matters (and in some jurisdictions, there is little to no distinction between petitions and applications).

Before administrative adjudicative tribunals and in alternative dispute processes, respondent is often the party that is not the claimant.

A plaintiff or defendant may also either be an applicant or respondent on various motions at different times throughout the litigation.

Respondent also refers to the non-appellant party or parties on appeal.

There are likely other contexts that I am missing. For more, look to the rules, practice directives, or forms for the particular forum and process you are wondering about.

  • What if both parties to an action cross appeal? Mar 28, 2023 at 9:31
  • @ohwilleke are courts of equity the historical origin of the term Respondent then? Mar 28, 2023 at 9:32
  • I’m not wondering about any one process in particular but, as asked in the question, rather the origin and usage of the terms themselves. Mar 28, 2023 at 10:33
  • @Seekinganswers "What if both parties to an action cross appeal?" Either the same labels or something like "Cross-Appellant and Cross-Appellee".
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 28, 2023 at 16:21
  • @Seekinganswers " are courts of equity the historical origin of the term Respondent then?" The terms "Complaint", "Plaintiff", "Defendant", and "Answer" from English courts of law are the more specific and distinctive ones with more recent origins. "Petition" is a more general concept and is older (although you get into cross-language issues because transition from Middle to Modern English is ca. 1400 CE and is more recent than the English legal system). "Response: and "Respondent" are basically grammatical counterparts of "Petition" and "Petitioner".
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 28, 2023 at 16:28

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