Both Criminal and Civil law differ in the standard of proof which is required for both. The phrase “Beyond reasonable doubt” is very significant when talking about the standard of proof required for a Criminal conviction. The accused in a Criminal case must be proved guilty beyond all reasonable doubt for a conviction to be made. This is because the rules of evidence are much stricter in a Criminal case, for example- a confession must be examined very carefully to see if any pressure was put on the accused to confess, however In a Civil case a confession will be readily accepted. This shows how much more serious a Criminal case is considered in relation to a Civil one. The Claimant in a Civil case only has to prove that his case is marginally stronger than that of the defendant in order to succeed. The Civil standard generally openly tolerates a substantial margin of error.
As in many countries, England has found if convenient to set up separate systems for Criminal cases and Civil cases. Therefore both have different courts. The Criminal court structure is progressive, this means that all cases start at the Magistrate’s court, and the more serious cases move on trial to the Crown court. The Crown court is where more serious offences are held. The importance of the Crown court is that it involves trial by judge and jury, unlike the Magistrate’s court where the Magistrates are the judges. The Civil law courts are not progressive like the Criminal ones. Civil cases enter the system at various levels depending on the seriousness of the case and the amount of money involved. Generally Civil cases take place in either- Magistrates court, County court or the High court. The magistrate court is primarily concerned with dealing with criminal matters, However the court also has some Civil jurisdiction, the largest area of civil law that the magistrates court deals with is matrimonial, though it also deals with cases such as ‘civil debts’ e.g. the money owed to the council from taxes etc.
The terminology used for both Criminal and Civil cases contrast quite distinctly. In a Civil case it is always said that the Claimant (previously Plaintiff) sues the Defendant but never prosecutes. It is written as - Claimant v Defendant. In Criminal cases it is said that the Prosecutor or the Crown prosecutes the Defendant. This is written as –
R v defendant, where R represents Regina or Rex, the king or queen. Under the criminal law a person who has offended may be prosectued by the state, if found guilty this will punish them and leave them with a criminal record hopefully prevent them from crime again. In Civil law this is not so. The defendant is never found guilty, and is never punished. A Civil case is between individuals, a Criminal case is the action of the state against an individual, this is because the criminal has offended against society and so he/she is punished by society as a whole, in the name of the queen.
In conclusion, It is important to note that the same series of events may give rise to both a Criminal and a Civil case. For example if a person has exceeded the speed limit and driven carelessly causing and accident and damaging another person’s car, they can be faced with two main consequences. Under the Criminal law they may be prosecuted by society for driving offences, and under Civil law they may be sued by the injured party or their insurance company for damage to the car and any injury caused. In this case they would be forced to pay compensation.
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Summary - this is a well written piece which brings out most of the differences between the civil and criminal justice and court systems. Rating: ****