Different streams of law

Civil and criminal law

There are two main streams of law: civil law and criminal law.

Civil law

Civil law covers disputes between individuals, companies and sometimes local or central government. It usually doesn't involve the Police. Civil disputes are often about money, but they cover a wide range of cases coming before the courts like:

  • Disputes over business contracts, wills, tax, land or other property
  • Cases where someone’s carelessness has caused someone else a loss
  • Family matters such as care of children and division of shared property.

Many civil cases are settled without a court hearing. This is possible when all parties agree on a solution – usually after negotiations by the parties' lawyers. In a civil case, the person who brings the action or "sues" someone (the plaintiff) must prove their case to the balance of probabilities. This means they must prove that it is more likely than not that their version of events is correct.

Criminal law

Criminal law has a high profile as it usually involves the Police investigating crimes. Criminal cases can involve theft, murder, and other trials which are reported by the news media.  In criminal law the person accused of a crime has the right to be represented by a lawyer. Evidence against them is heard in a court. To be convicted (found guilty) it must be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the person accused of a crime has committed the crime. If convicted, a person will be sentenced in accordance with the law, and has a right to appeal against conviction and sentence.

Criminal prosecutions are usually brought by the Police but can also be brought by others – for example by government departments like the Ministry of Transport, the Department of Inland Revenue (IRD) or Local Authorities.

To learn more about criminal law and civil law and to explore the criminal and the civil justice system (the process of putting civil law and criminal law into practice) read these two stories:

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