The state plays no part in Civil Law. Civil Law has many different branches. The main ones are contract, tort, and family law, law of succession, company law and employment law. Other divisions of civil law concentrate on particular topics. Family law covers such matters as whether a marriage is valid, what the rules are for divorce and who should have the day-to-day care of any children of the family. The law of succession is concerned both with regulating who inherits property when a person dies without making a will, and also what the rules are for making a valid will. Company law is very important in the business world: it regulates how a company should be formed, sets out formal rules for running companies, and deals with the rights and duties of shareholders and directors. Employment law covers all aspects of employment, form the original formation of a contract of employment to situations of redundancy or unfair dismissal. As well as these areas of private law, there are also laws relating to land, to copyright and patents, to marine law and many other topics, so it can be seen that civil law covers a wide variety of situations.
There are many differences between criminal cases and civil cases. Firstly, the cases take place in different courts. In general, criminal cases will be tried in either the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court, while civil cases are heard in the High Court or the County Court, although some civil cases can be tried in the Magistrates’ Court, especially family cases. Secondly, the person in the case is given a different name: in criminal cases they are referred to as the prosecutor, while in civil cases they are called the claimant. The person or business making the claim starts civil cases. Thirdly, the terminology used is different. A defendant in a criminal case is found guilty or not guilty whereas a defendant in a civil case is found liable or not liable. At the end of a criminal case those who are found guilty of breaking the law may be punished, while at the end of a civil case anyone found liable will be ordered to put right the matter as far as possible. An award of money in compensation, known as damages, though the court can make other orders such as an injunction to prevent similar actions in the future, or an order for specific performance where the defendant who broke a contract is ordered to complete that contract, usually does this. Fourthly, the standard of proof is different. Criminal cases must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. This is a very high standard of proof, and is necessary since a conviction could result in a defendant serving a long prison sentence. Civil cases have only to be proved on the balance of probabilities, a lower standard in which the judge decides who is most likely to be right. This difference in the standard to which a case has to be proved mean that all though a defendant in a criminal case has been acquitted, a civil case based on the same facts against that defendant can still be successful.
It is more common for a civil action to follow a successful criminal case, especially in accident cases. A defendant may be found guilty of a driving offence, such as going through a red traffic light or driving without due care and attention; this is a criminal case. Anyone who was injured or had a property damaged as a result of the incident could bring a civil action to claim compensation. The fact that the defendant had already been convicted of a driving offence will make it easier to prove the civil case.
Using cases to show the differences between civil and criminal law in this study is essential. The following are examples:
On 3 March 1961 Mrs Elsie May Batten, an assistant in Louis Meier's 23 Cecil Court antique shop, located in an alley off Charing Cross Road in London's West End, was found dead. She had been stabbed with an antique dagger in her chest and neck.
Nearby shop owners recalled a young coloured man who had been asking about the price of dress swords. This man also tried to sell a sword, which was later proved to have come from the murdered lady's shop. After taking the descriptions of the suspect, the police constructed an Identikit picture. Within 4 days of the picture being issued, PC John Cole recognised the person and arrested him on his beat in the Soho area of London.
Two Cecil Court shop owners picked out a 21-year-old Eurasian called Edwin Albert Bush from an Identity Parade. Bush made a statement in which he admitted killing Mrs Batten in order to steal the sword:
"I went back to the shop and started looking through the daggers, telling her that I might want to buy one, but I picked one up and hit her in the back. I then lost my nerve and picked up a stone vase and hit her with it. I grabbed a knife and hit her once in the stomach and once in the neck."
Bush was charged with murder in the course or furtherance of theft. Under the Homicide Act 1957, this type of murder carried the death sentence.
A husband left his wife. They met to make arrangements for the future. The husband agreed to pay £40 per month maintenance, out of which the wife would pay the mortgage. When the mortgage was paid off he would transfer the house from joint names to the wife’s name. He wrote this down and signed the paper, but later refused to transfer the house.
It was held that when the arrangement was made, the husband and wife were no longer living together, therefore they must have intended the agreement to binding, as they would base there future actions on it. The writing evidenced this intention. The husband had to transfer the house to the wife.
In criminal law, police generally must first obtain a search warrant in a proceeding showing a "neutral and detached" magistrate that there is "probable cause", before searching or seizing items from a person's house. In civil law, an attorney may demand information from the opposing party about any matter that is relevant to the case, provided that information is not privileged. In civil law, an attorney may properly demand information that would be inadmissible at trial, if such demand "appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence".
The prohibition against double jeopardy applies only to criminal trials. The corresponding concept in civil litigation is res judicata: one can have only one trial for claims arising from one transaction or occurrence.
In a criminal case, the suspect or defendant has the right to remain silent during questioning by police and prosecuting attorneys. In a criminal case, the defendant may choose to refuse to be a witness, and the jury may infer nothing from the defendant's choice not to testify. However, in a civil case, the defendant must be available and cooperative for depositions and testimony as a witness in the trial.