We hear legal terms regularly bandied about: on the telly, on the news, in conversation; perhaps you might even have had a case to bring before the court.
Or worse: you might have been a defendant in a legal case – meaning somebody brought charges against you!
The law is the law is the law, but there are distinct divisions to address specific legal matters that might arise so, if you have a legal matter to take up, you should address it to the proper court and to a solicitor that specializes in that type of law.
Conversely, if you are a law student still trying to decide your area of expertise, you may want to know more about the various fields of law.
Either way, this article is meant for you! Superprof now jumps into the legal fray to bring you salient points of the four main types of law that shapes and governs our society.
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Two Broad Classifications
As you may well have intuited, there are two types of law that are absolutely distinct from one another: criminal law and civil law.
Broadly painted, the difference between the two is that criminal law addresses offences against society – the more heinous crimes such as murder and rape, drug deals and assaults.
Those thus accused are prosecuted by the state in Magistrate’s court or Crown court, and, if convicted of misdeed(s), that conviction would be entered on that person’s criminal record.
Most people never acquire a criminal record!
By contrast, civil law is a much broader topic that encompasses everything from immigration to tort.
That is a French word meaning wrongdoing.
Civil cases may be brought by individuals or by companies and may seek simple redress or substantial and extended compensation.
Civil cases may include:
Insurance payouts – you bring suit against someone’s insurance company after a traffic accident, for example.
Breaches of contract: your landlord or employer has failed to live up to his/her formalised agreement.
Divorce and child custody – one party files suit against the other
personal injury cases – contrary to the name, you don’t need to be physically injured to obtain compensation; you may seek relief because of mental anguish brought on by discrimination, for example.
traffic offences: speeding tickets and any other moving violations; you may even dispute parking tickets in civil court!
Negligence: you become sick after eating in a restaurant, you may sue the restaurant owner because s/he is responsible for providing uncontaminated food.
Copyright and design right infringement: whether an artistic medium or a functional item, they are protected from reproduction for a certain period of time.
One gripping civil case of note was the one brought against O.J. Simpson – what was called America’s trial of the Century.
He was found not guilty of murder in criminal court but was found liable for the death of his wife in civil court through the lawsuit brought by her family.
They received an injunction against him: any future earnings are to go directly to relieve his debt to the families concerned!
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One critical difference between civil and criminal court proceedings is how the parties involved are labelled.
For criminal cases, the defendant(s) must answer to the charges made against him/her by the prosecution.
In civil law, the parties are generally designated as the plaintiff – the one complaining to or petitioning the court, and the defendant: the person being sued.
They may also be called petitioner and respondent.
However, no matter the grounds of the lawsuit or the criminal charge, in our country, all judges are to follow judicial precedent, meaning that decisions made in higher courts are binding onto lower courts.
Now we delve into four main types of law addressed in civil courts in the UK each type necessitating the intervention of a different kind of lawyer.
This is an umbrella term for any litigation that addresses wrongdoing between two parties.
Tort law covers assault, battery, trespass, intentional infliction of emotional distress and product liability – when your new phone explodes, for example.
Briefly stated: when one party’s alleged negligence ‘injures’ the other party – causes them financial or physical harm or some other type of duress, the injured party may engage the services of a tort lawyer to seek redress.
Of course, nothing says that you must hire a solicitor but, the law being very complex, your best chance at settling any dispute in your favour demands someone with legal training.
Tort law comprises of all past litigation decisions which form the basis of deciding compensation for people who claim injury in a court of law.
Damages are generally monetary in nature and may cover the loss of earning capability, medical expenses, reimbursement for property damage or loss and may even include punitive damages – a sum that the defendant must pay to the plaintiff as punishment.
Of course, this is a mere overview of torts; the topic is so vast that entire volumes have been written about it!
Much as we’d like for everyone to get along and live happily ever after, family courts are full of people who can no longer get along and/or simply cannot agree on child maintenance and visitation rights.
Family law is also about adopting children, wardship and parental responsibility.
In some cases, domestic violence will be addressed by family courts, as will property law if the case involves the trust of the family home.
Oddly enough, elderly family members’ rights are not covered by family law in the UK.
In Asia, filial laws are an integral part of family law!
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Should a senior citizen have a complaint against a family member, s/he would need to file a petition with the Court of Protection if so warranted, or as a personal dispute if the matter calls for it.
More on personal disputes later in this article...
Simply put, anyone who has a contractual obligation to you or that you have a contractual obligation to falls under the premise of contract law.
If you have a lease agreement and the landlord fails to maintain the property as outlined in your contract, you may pursue legal action against him/her.
If you have recently bought the car of your dreams but fail to make the payments on time, the automobile dealer my enforce the repossession clause of your purchase contract.
By no means is a contract so narrowly defined as to mean only written documents agreed upon by both parties; verbal contracts and, to some extent, social contracts may also be considered under contract law.
A current case in point of a verbal/social contract gone wrong involves the American dine-n-dasher who misrepresented his romantic intent to various women, inviting them to a fine restaurant – only to leave the lovelorn women to foot the bill for his extravagant meal.
As dining/dashing is considered a crime in California, he is currently being held to a criminal statute rather than any civil code.
However, in addition to criminal penalties, the women in question also have the option of bringing civil charges against him.
This case presents a fascinating study of a contract law!
It is in the public interest that verbal contracts, as well as written ones, receive the same treatment under the law. However, verbal contract breaches tend to be much harder to prove.
In the days prior to digital recording, most such cases boiled down to the credibility of the parties involved.
Tax law, labor law, business law and corporate law; estate law and property law; international law and immigration law – a branch of law practice that is currently under close scrutiny all over the world...
These are particularly high-profile categories that anyone in law school may choose as their specialization.
Lawyers can be expensive, check Superprof guide to pro-bono legal aid.
However, the fourth type of law we will cover is rather ambiguously labelled.
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Technically, any legal issues between two parties are considered disputes.
The legal system considers everything from public and private nuisance claims to bankruptcy and personal injury personal disputes.
Those aforementioned elderly who must bring suit against their family – perhaps for a will dispute or inheritance provisions, would most likely do so as a personal dispute rather than a tort case.
The first order of business in personal disputes is mediation.
This is a process in which both sides meet and discuss the pertinent issues under the guidance and advice of their family lawyer.
If the matter at hand does not involve family, many types of lawyers are available.
You may need a business lawyer to help protect your rights in corporate matters, or you may need an injury lawyer when seeking redress against someone who struck your car while driving.
Should negotiation not resolve the issue, you and your counsel will find yourself embroiled in a civil court case whose resolution may not be entirely in your favour.
Whether you work in a law firm actively practising law, are taking strides toward obtaining your law degree or if you are just looking for a bit of legal education so that you may be better versed in public law...
Learning about advocacy, jurisprudence and legislation in general will serve you well but law tuition fee can be expensive and may require that you get a law scholarship.
After all, we all have a constitutional duty to fulfil our social contract as citizens by learning everything we can about different types of law, if only that we might uphold them better.
And who knows? You may decide to embark on legal studies if you’re not yet enrolled in law courses!