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Demonstrate your understanding of both the UK civil and criminal court systems and their hierarchical structures.

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Demonstrate your understanding of both the UK civil and criminal court systems and their hierarchical structures. The divide between criminal and civil law can be identified by the factions represented in court. In a civil court, i.e. magistrates, county or the high court, the two participants are private individuals. In a criminal court, i.e. magistrates, crown or the high court, one of the opposing parties is always the state; theoretically the Queen (represented by the Crown Prosecution Service), the other being the defendant; an individual person. An important similarity between criminal law and civil law to consider is that they both have a common purpose, most notably to control people's behaviour by setting limits on what acts are permissible in this country. Both have their own remedies. Civil law deals with individual wrongs. Criminal law deals with wrongs against society. In practice the difference between a civil and a criminal matter can be derived from who brings the case. A criminal matter is brought by the government, whereas a civil matter is brought by another person (or some private entity). The majority of private law is comprised of civil cases, mainly concerning a claimant and a defendant. Such cases arise when one individual has a grievance against another for personal harm done be it physical or mental, and therefore seeks compensation. An action has to be taken were the courts will settle the differences. ...read more.


In a magistrates court lay magistrates hear most cases normally in groups of three. Lay magistrates are part time, unpaid and do not need a legal qualification, however they are assisted by a legally qualified clerk who may advise if requested. Some, but very few cases may be heard by District |Judges. District judges are legally qualified, full time and paid, they sit alone and hear the longer and more difficult cases. Only summary offences such as motor offences and minor assaults are dealt with in the magistrate's court. Apart from the exception of triable either way offences which, can then be dealt with in either two courts of trial. The majority of criminal business is dealt with by magistrates and, despite ideology and triviality, they deal with serious cases. There is also a Youth Court within the Magistrates Court which deals with the offences of minors where a detention, training order or a custodial sentence can be issued. The Magistrates court is fundamentally a criminal court but also deals with matters falling under The Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates Court Act 1978, i.e. granting personal licenses and small civil debts. In a civil court the parties are heard by a single judge who decides, based on the amount of compensation sought and the nature of the case, which track to direct the claim. The small claims track hears cases seeking no more than five thousand pounds and personal injury claims of up to one thousand pounds. ...read more.


Complex cases may 'leapfrog' to the Supreme Court from the High Court. Criminal cases can be heard in the High Court (Administrative Court of the QBD) where cases are heard 'by way of case stated' by High Court Judges. The Court of Appeal may hear appeals from the crown court from both the defendant and the prosecution. Decisions in The Court of Appeal are made by 'Lord Justices of Appeal'. The House of Lords hears appeals from the Criminal Division or from the administrative court of the QBD via a 'leapfrog' procedure. Such appeals are heard on points of the law. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council grants appeals if there has been a considerable injustice served or if it is deemed that the accused has been denied a fair trial. The European Court of Justice may be consulted to give rulings on matters of European law. The European Court of Human Rights hears cases concerning breaches of the European Convention of Human Rights, which was signed in 1951 by a number of European countries, including the UK. In conclusion; criminal law primarily deals with the rehabilitation or punishment for wrongs, and ends in fines or imprisonment. Civil law is about righting a wrong and has the primary purpose of compensation. Lord Irvine distinguishes from the two in the following quote: "The criminal justice system is there to help protect us from crime, and to ensure that criminals are punished. The civil justice system is there to help people dispute their wrongs fairly and peacefully. ...read more.

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