What constitutes criminal law?
Criminal law essentially relates to offences and breaches that negatively affect society, as opposed to just one person. This area of the law is defined by what Acts of Parliament deem to be acceptable or unacceptable conduct in the UK. There are also a range of offences that can be committed by a British citizen abroad, but then prosecuted under British law in England and Wales.
What does civil law cover?
Civil law is quite different from criminal law. It’s concerned with the rights and property of individual people or organisations, which may not always be protected by criminal laws. Civil law settles disputes between individuals and organisations and it often involves compensation being awarded. No one is sent to prison in a civil case, but they may be left out of pocket if they’re found liable to pay compensation.
Civil law cases often hinge on establishing whether or not the accused person or organisation, legally known as the defendant, had a duty of care towards the claimant. For example, an employer has a duty of care towards their employees.
Therefore, if an employee is injured at work, a personal injury solicitor will seek to prove that the employer breached their duty of care and that this breach caused the injury to the claimant.
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If convicted, the offender will receive the penalty laid out in the relevant legislation and sentencing guidelines, usually in the form of fines, prison sentences or community orders. In order to be found guilty of a criminal offence, the person must be proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. It’s an important principle of UK law that everyone’s considered to be innocent unless proven guilty.
Criminal law seeks to punish for an offence. Civil law seeks to achieve a remedy such as compensation for the injured party. Other important distinctions include:
Yes, it happens quite frequently. The CPS will prosecute a person in a criminal case; at the same time, a wronged person, such as the victim of an assault, may choose to bring a civil action against that person too. It’s possible for the person to be acquitted in the criminal court, where the burden of proof is greater, but still lose the civil case and be ordered to pay damages or compensation to the injured party.
Perhaps you’ve been caught by a speed camera without noticing, or been seen going through traffic lights a little too late? Or maybe you’ve been really unlucky and witnesses or the police believe that your driving fell far below the required standard.
When these, or many other driving offences occur, you will likely receive a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) in the post if you’ve not been stopped by the police. This is an official notice from the police to tell you that the incident has been reported and that you may be prosecuted. It doesn’t mean that you definitely will be prosecuted, it’s simply giving you fair warning that a prosecution is being considered and doing so within 14 days, while the events should be fresh enough in your memory.
Importantly, if you receive a NIP, it must arrive within 14 days of the date of the alleged incident to be valid. If it arrives later, your solicitor may be able to defend you against the original offence.
If you’ve been arrested on suspicion of drink driving, the bad news is that this offence is dealt with in the criminal courts, it’s a breach of a statute – specifically section five of The Road Traffic Act 1988 – a conviction will show on your criminal record as well as on your driving licence if you’re convicted.
The law defines dangerous driving as being when the standard of driving of a defendant falls far below the minimum standard of driving expected of a careful and competent driver. It defines careless driving as when the standard of driving is simply below the standard of a careful and competent driver.
While these may be slightly subjective differences in practice, both charges are extremely serious and can result in those found guilty losing their licences and in the case of dangerous driving, even their liberty.
If the Police have contacted you with regards to a driving offence, including speeding, you need to speak to a specialist driving offence solicitor right away, ideally before giving a statement to the Police.