Thursday, 22 August 2013

Criminal and Civil Law

In English Law, one of the most important distinctions is between Criminal and Civil Law. For Law students at any level, it is important to be able to discuss what distinguishes them.

Here's a framework -

Governing Relationships
Criminal - between an individual and the rest of the community [embodied in the 'State']
Civil - between individuals

(This is a generalisation - there are exceptions - especially in Magistrates Courts which have some civil jurisdiction)
Criminal - Magistrates Court; Crown Court
Civil - County Court; High Court.
The Court of Appeal has a Criminal and a Civil Division.

Criminal - Prosecution/Prosecutor (usually a case is brought by the authorities, but most offences could be the subject of a private prosecution) and Defendant
Civil - Claimant and Defendant/Respondent

Who can bring a case?
Criminal - Generally anyone (though in practice it is the Authorities - and some offences may only be brought by certain officials eg. DPP)
Civil - Limited to a person who has suffered the loss

Who can halt a case?
Criminal - generally only the State
Civil - only the parties themselves

Language Used
Criminal - Prosecutes; Guilt
Civil - Claims (sues); Liability

Standard of Proof
Criminal - Beyond reasonable doubt
Civil - Balance of probabilities

Criminal - Sanctions - Imprisonment; Fines; other punishments; discharge (conditional or unconditional)
Civil - Remedies - compensation;

If faced with an exam question on the differences - do illustrate the answer with examples. It is important to stress that the same event may lead to criminal AND civil proceedings.