What Is The Difference Between Civil Law And Criminal Law?
Posted on 18th March 2020
When is something “a Civil Matter”?
Whilst there are a diverse range of sectors in the legal world, those that most people will come across in terms of disputes or being wronged can be boiled down to two, Civil and Criminal matters. Some readers may have come across the advice from police or solicitors that something is a Civil Matter, in other words it is not a Criminal Matter. MG Legal, your solicitors in Lancaster, have been asked this question many times and a recent, landmark case, a Private Prosecution taken up by Boots the Chemist, has prompted us to write this article to answer just this question.
Firstly, when is something considered a “Criminal Matter”?
A Criminal Offence is one that specifically breaches a Criminal Law, such as the Theft Act 1968 or as most people will likely be aware and some slightly surprised, the Road Traffic Act 1988 and maybe more obvious Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988. Doing 35mph in a 30mh speed limit area is, in fact, a criminal offence, albeit one that you will not be jailed for.
Who decides if something is a Criminal Matter?
Usually, if called, the Police will make a first decision and they will then refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service to pursue a Criminal Prosecution again the person they believe to have committed the crime. If there is sufficient evidence, the matter will proceed to Prosecution and if a “not guilty” plea is entered, a Trial. All Crown Prosecution matters are funded by the Public Purse and so there is no need for the victim to pay for any of the cost of the Prosecution.
What if there is a disagreement about the type of Matter?
Going back to the Boots case mentioned at the top of the page, an individual was alleged to have shoplifted £170.00 worth of Gucci perfume from their Piccadilly branch. After viewing CCTV and capturing Bodycam footage, Police Officers allowed the alleged offender to leave the premises with a warning. Police officers then told the store manager that it was a Civil Matter. Boots disagreed and in what is believed to be the first case of its kind, launched a Private Prosecution against the alleged offender. A Private Prosecution is one that is brought and paid for by the victim, independent of the Crown Prosecution Service and from there it will follow the usual Criminal Procedure Rules all the way to a Trial if necessary.
Where am I most likely to be told something is a Civil Matter and not a Criminal Matter?
It is most usual that this advice will be given after an incident where Personal Injury is sustained. It is true that, if held to the letter of the Law, most offenders in a Road Traffic Accident have probably committed a Criminal Offence by, say, “Driving Without Due Care and Attention”. Accidents in public places or in businesses, or after being sold a faulty or defective item can also, if held to the absolute letter of the Law, probably be categorised as Criminal. Most injured parties are told that their case is a Civil Matter and that they should seek independent legal advice from an expert solicitor, such as MG Legal, your solicitors in Lancaster.
Why are these matters not Prosecuted and what should I do about it?
The short answers is probably nothing in terms of Private Prosecutions as these are exceedingly expensive and often the offender does not have the funds to pay for the legal fees, even if the Court Ordered them to pay those. Often, Costs Orders in Criminal Matters are for around £100.00 and it is not uncommon to see lesser sums of even £50.00 and £60.00 being Ordered, with sentences for offences usually constituting a suspended sentence, a few hours of Community service or a small fine. Whilst many people would, quite rightly “just want Justice to be done”, principle is a costly commodity.
The most usual and indeed the path that MG Legal, your solicitors in Lancaster, would recommend is to bring a Civil Claim. Usually this arises from a Tort, also known as a Civil Wrong or negligence, which gives rise to a right to claim either under specific Legislation or under a breach of Common Law duty. A Civil Claim, whilst based on the negligence is often brought against the fault party, is routinely presented to the insurer of that party. It is not possible to insure against Criminal Acts, however, it is possible to insurer against Civil ones, with car insurance being the most obvious one.
The Law provides that as long as the claim is of sufficient value, currently if the value of the Personal Injury exceeds £1000.00, you are also entitled to recover some legal fees along with this. Insurers have deep pockets and they exist for just this reason meaning there is no problem if your brand-new car has been written off, your injury claim amounts to several thousand pounds and you have lost three month’s earnings because the insurance company will have the funds to pay for these losses. The fault party will not bear any of these losses and potentially the only effect they will feel will be their policy excess for any damage they suffered and an increased policy premium next year.
Ultimately, whilst a Criminal Prosecution may seem more like Justice being done, it is a costly and likely futile exercise that will punish you more than the offender. Civil cases, such as personal injury claims, are affordable and at MG Legal, your solicitors in Lancaster, we offer Conditional Fee Agreements (no win no fee agreements) for any personal injury claim we take on, meaning that you are at no risk throughout your case. If you win, there is usually an insurance policy in place to compensate for your injuries, repay lost earnings, care costs, medical expenses and repair or replace any damaged items including cars, plus a provision for your base legal fees.
So, if you have been involved in any type of incident where you have suffered a personal injury, please contact MG Legal, your solicitors in Lancaster, to discuss how we can help you. We are happy to hear from you by phone, email, web-contact form or in person by dropping into one of our offices in Lancaster, Garstang or Longridge. We will put you in touch with the right member of the team to ensure that your claim gets moving straight away.
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