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The Law

What is the law?

Every country has its own set of rules – ‘the law of

the land’.
The law protects your rights, your person and your
The law is also used as a method of social control.
This means it aims to ensure individuals behave
responsibly towards each other.

Different kinds of law

• Statute Law – these are laws made in

parliament. E.g. Hunting with dogs was banned

by an act of parliament.
• Case Law – if an issue comes up in court for the first
time, the judge’s decision will set a precedent. Similar
cases that come up will be based upon this case law.
• Common Law – some of Britain’s laws originate from
the time before parliament, and some of today’s laws
are based upon these and other customs e.g.
• Bylaws – laws made by councils, airports, ferry

companies etc – e.g. parking, dog fouling on parks,

dumping rubbish, littering, open-air drinking.
• European Law – as a member of the EU, Britain is

bound by laws passed in Brussels (the EU HQ) e.g.

metric weights and measures. Some EU decisions are
regulations which means that they are law in all
member states. Other EU decisions are directives
which means they are recommendations.
Civil Law and Criminal Law
Laws about private rights – civil laws
Laws enforced by government – criminal laws
Civil Law
Civil law covers your dealings with other people –
e.g. lending and borrowing money, entering into
contracts, getting married and disputes with
neighbours. A solicitor deals with matters such as
these e.g. house buying, will-making etc.
Most civil cases are dealt with in county courts.

County Courts
An individual (plaintiff) takes action against
another (defendant). This is ‘to sue’. The court will
find the defendant ‘liable’ or ‘not liable’. If found
liable, the defendant has to pay damages in
compensation. Both sides have a solicitor, or a
barrister, or both to represent them. A judge will
decide the verdict. A party can go to the Court of
Appeal if they are unhappy with the verdict.

More important cases are dealt with in the:

High Court
Cases involving £50,000 or more are dealt with
here. These are still civil law cases such as
bankruptcies, wills, divorces and large claims for

Often the solicitor will be able to settle the problem

without it going to court. These ‘out of court
settlements’ are less expensive than going to

Criminal law deals with matters such as ABH/GBH,

vandalism, sexual assault, rape, murder, drugs and
violence. Criminal offences are regarded as
offences against society, not disputes between

The aim of criminal law is to protect society. A

person is ‘prosecuted’ and found ‘guilty’ or ‘not
guilty’ of an offence. The law states what
punishments may be given.

Criminal Courts
There are separate courts for criminal cases:
House of Lords – deals with appeals about the law
Court of Appeal – hears cases brought to appeal
Crown court – serious criminal cases are decided
before a judge and jury
Magistrates Court – less Juvenile Court – for
serious crimes or persons under 18 years
summary offences e.g. old and over 10
non-payment of council
tax, parking tickets etc

About 98% of criminal cases are dealt with in

magistrates’ courts.

Magistrates are also known as J.P.s (Justices of the
Peace), they are appointed, unpaid and have no
legal training. They are often people who have
been active in the local community e.g. youth
group leader, headteacher, doctor etc. Most towns
have their own magistrates court.

Juvenile (youth) courts

In some cases – a child may be sent to Crown Court
if the offence is very serious e.g. murder, rape or
arson. The youth magistrates have to have special
training, and any child under 16 MUST BE
accompanied by parent or guardian.

Sentences (punishments) for youths

• Absolute discharge – for minor first offences
• Conditional discharge – means you are let off on
condition you do not re-offend within a period of
3 years. If you do, you are punished for both
• Fines – up to maximum of £1,000, usually the

parents are ordered to pay this. Compensation

orders of up to £5,000 can be made to the
victim. Parents can be bound over to look after
their children properly or pay a fine.
• Community Service - attendance centre in

leisure time, a supervision for up to three years

with a curfew, a probation order where they
have to attend a day centre, electronic tagging,
and a community service order e.g. litter-
picking, gardening, cleaning graffiti, clearing
• Custodial sentence – secure training centres for 12-
14 yr olds, 15-20 yr olds can be sent to HM YOIs, Young
Offenders Institutions, or ‘borstals’, e.g. Feltham.

The criminal courts

Cases held here are tried before a judge and jury. All
judges must be qualified barristers or solicitors. They are
chosen to be judges by the Lord Chancellor. The main
criticism of judges is that they are all white, elderly, rich
men. If a defendant pleads not-guilty then the case will
go to trial. The defendant then either is freed on bail until
the trial, or placed on remand in a prison.

The Trial
In a crown court defendants are tried by JURY. A jury is a
random selection of TWELVE adults (18-70). They are not
paid but can claim expenses for travel, food and loss of
earnings. Some people are EXEMPT from jury service:
police officers, religious ministers and lawyers. You are
excluded if you have been to prison in the past ten years.
Trial by jury has been a basic human right in Britain for
over 600 years. However it is expensive – Tony Blair has
taken away this right recently.
Basic Rights:
• Innocent until proven guilty
• Prosecution must prove guilt BEYOND ALL

• Trial must be held in public (except youths)

• Witnesses must give evidence in the presence of the

accused, who may question the witnesses
• Court must listen to everything relevant the accused
wants to say
• Double jeopardy – can’t be charged for the same
offence twice, UNLESS NOW, ‘new and compelling
evidence’ has been found e.g DNA

There are FIVE theories of punishment:
1.retribution – make the criminal suffer
2.protect the public
3.deterrence – to frighten the criminal and others
4.rehabilitation – to reform the criminal, make him see
‘the error of his ways’
5.reparation – pay back the victim and society e.g.
community service