The English Legal System has been developed over many years and has split into two distinct types of law. They are civil law and criminal law. Each type of law has an important part to play in establishing liability but there are many differences between them.
For a start, the purpose of civil law is to uphold the rights of individuals and to stop those rights being damaged. An example of this could be trespassing. The person trespassing on someone’s land isn’t actually causing them any harm, but is causing them grief and becoming a nuisance to them when they are an innocent person. criminal law not only protects the individuals within our society, but protects society as whole, and keeps order within communities. This includes crimes against people that will actually cause them harm such as murder, rape or grievous bodily harm. If a person breaks a criminal law, they will be arrested and taken into custody, where they will be able to talk to a solicitor who will try and assist them with things such as letting them know their rights, and aiding them during their police interview.
If the case requires a court appearance, it will be brought upon the defendant by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) (which represents the state), and the person who they will be up against is the prosecutor. The case is cited as R v Smith. For a Civil matter, the person who is alleged to be liable will not be arrested and the police will not have anything to do with the case. However, they will have to go to court in order to try and defend themselves against the claimant, who may be looking for compensation as a form of repayment for the fact that the defendant has affected the claimant’s rights.
The courts that each type of law deal with are also different. The courts that criminal cases get heard in will be the Magistrates Court and the Crown Court, with the Magistrates Court dealing with the lesser crimes such as breach of the peace, and the Crown Court dealing with cases such as rape and murder which are more serious. Magistrates deal with over 95% of all criminal cases. It would be impossible for qualified judges to hear so many cases so Magistrates who are unqualified hear them instead.
The Crown Court deals with the more serious cases as the overall sentence is handed out by a judge, although the verdict is not the judge’s opinion, as it is dealt with by 12 members of a jury. The Crown Court does not only hear serious cases, but can also have cases referred to it from the Magistrates Court when an appeal has been made. Both the Magistrates Court and the Crown Court are courts of ‘first instance’, and the verdicts made there have to be beyond a reasonable doubt (the decision has to be very obvious and not at all debatable). The verdict on a criminal case will be either guilty (convicted) or not guilty (acquitted). If found guilty, they will be sentenced. Sentences include being given community service, receiving an ASBO, being given a fine or, if it is a motoring offence, being given a driving ban.
The Civil Courts are split into many different courts, known as the branches of civil courts. The County Court deals with less significant civil cases such as breach of contract and tort cases (negligence, nuisance, defamation and trespass). The County Court also deals with undefended divorce (where there is no objection from either party and they are both happy for the divorce to go ahead). There is a separate section of the County Court called the Small Claims Court that deals with any cases for under ï¿½5,000, and any cases between ï¿½5,000 and ï¿½15,000 are dealt with in the standard county court, and these cases are known as fast track cases. The County Court also deals with personal injury cases that are for less than ï¿½50,000, and the cases are heard by a circuit or district judge.
The next branch of the civil courts is the High Court. This is split into 3 divisions known as the Queen’s Bench Division, the Family Division and the Chancery Division. The Queen’s Bench Division deals with contract and tort cases that are for over ï¿½15,000, and also personal injury cases that are for over ï¿½50,000. People can also go to the Queen’s Bench Division to claim if they have been wrongly imprisoned for a crime that they didn’t commit and then later are found to be innocent. The Queen’s Bench Division also deals with cases where a family is trying to sue someone for a fatal accident that has happened to a member of that family. Cases such as professional negligence and defamation actions are also seen by the Queen’s Bench Division. If someone has had their case seen by a Magistrates Court and they are unhappy with the outcome of their trial, then they may appeal to have their case re-heard at the Queen’s Bench Division.
The Family Division of the High Court deals only with family disputes, mainly divorce hearings where the couple cannot agree on custody terms or are disputing monetary contributions, or where one person in the relationship wants a divorce but the other person doesn’t want one.
The final division in the High Court is the Chancery Division. This deals with cases of disputed wills where people are arguing over what they should rightly receive from a deceased person’s will. It also deals with cases of bankruptcy, company law disputes, tax cases and copyright infringements.
Another civil court is the Court Of Appeal (Civil Division). This hears appeals from the county court and the high court and the cases are heard by Lords Justices of Appeal.
In civil law, in order to be able to prove the case, the decision is based on a balance of probabilities. For example, as soon as you are more than 50% sure someone should be liable, then you can have them lose their case. The decisions in civil cases are not called “guilty” or “not guilty” like in criminal cases, but are called liable (the equivalent of guilty) and not liable (the equivalent of not guilty). If found liable in a civil court then you may be ordered to pay damages to the claimant, or may be found to have broken your contract, known as specific performance, which is where a contract has been broken and monetary value cannot replace damage that has been done because of the contract being broken.