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Plaintiffs unable to gain access to the three common
law courts might directly appeal to the sovereign,
and such pleas would be passed for consideration
and decision to the Lord Chancellor, who acted as
the kings conscience. As the common law courts
became more formalistic and more inaccessible,
pleas to the Chancellor correspondingly increased
and eventually this resulted in the emergence of a
specific court constituted to deliver equitable or
fair decisions in cases that the common law
courts declined to deal with. As had happened with
the common law, the decisions of the Courts of
Equity established principles that were used to
decide later cases, so it should not be thought
that the use of equity meant that judges had
discretion to decide cases on the basis of their
personal idea of what was just in each case.


The division between the common law
courts and the Courts of Equity continued
until they were eventually combined by
the Judicature Acts (JdA) 187375. Prior
to this legislation, it was essential for a
party to raise an action in the appropriate
court for example, the courts of law
would not implement equitable principles;
the Acts, however, provided that every
court had the power and the duty to
decide cases in line with common law
and equity, with the latter being
paramount in the final analysis.


This particular conjunction follows on from the
immediately preceding section, in that the
common law here refers to the substantive law
and procedural rules that have been created by
the judiciary through the decisions in the cases
they have heard. Statute law, on the other
hand, refers to law that has been created by
parliament in the form of legislation.
Although there has been a significant increase in
statute law in the 20th and 21st centuries, the
courts still have an important role to play in
creating and operating law generally and in
determining the operation of legislation in


Public law is that area of constitutional, administrative, criminal, and
international law that focuses on the organization of the
government, the relations between the state and its citizens,
the responsibilities of government officials, and the relations
between sister states. It is concerned with political matters,
including the powers, rights, capacities, and duties of various levels
of government and government officials.
Private law is that part of a legal system which is part of the jus
commune that involves relationships between individuals, such as
the law of contracts or torts, as it is called in the common law, and the
law of obligations as it is called in civilian legal systems. It is to be
distinguished from public law, which deals with relationships between
natural and artificial persons (i.e., individuals, business entities, nonprofit organizations) and the state including regulatory statutes,
penal law and other law that effects the public order.
In general terms, public law involves interrelations between the
state and the general population, whereas private law involves
interactions between private citizens.


Civil law is a form of private law and involves the
relationships between individual citizens. It is the legal
mechanism through which individuals can assert
claims against others and have those rights
adjudicated and enforced. The purpose of civil law is to
settle disputes between individuals and to provide
remedies; it is not concerned with punishment as such.
Criminal law, on the other hand, is an aspect of public
law and relates to conduct which the State considers
with disapproval and which it seeks to control and/or
eradicate. Criminal law involves the enforcement of
particular forms of behaviour, and the State, as the
representative of society, acts positively to ensure
In criminal law, a prosecutor prosecutes a
defendant (or the accused). In civil law, a
claimant sues (or brings a claim against) a

Differences between Criminal

and Civil law

Crime categories
A crime is an illegal act which may result
in prosecution and punishment by the
state if the accused (= the person or
people charged with a crime) is / are
convicted (= found guilty in a court of
law). Generally, in order to be convicted
of a crime, the accused must be shown
to have committed
an illegal (= unlawful) act
with a criminal state of mind.

Crime categories (contd)

Look at the list of crimes in the box, then look at the categories below. Decide
which category each one comes under, and write the crime in the
appropriate space in the table.
Some crimes can be listed under more than one category. One of the words /
expressions in the list is not a crime.

Crimes against the person: abduction; actual bodily harm; assault; battery;
grievous bodily harm; indecent assault; infanticide; manslaughter; murder;
paedophilia (also called unlawful sex); racial abuse; rape; wounding. Note that
some crimes against the person, such as murder and paedophilia, are also
considered to be crimes against society.
Crimes against property: arson; being equipped to steal; blackmail; breaking and
entering; burglary (if the burglar is armed, this is called aggravated burglary);
criminal damage; deception or fraud; embezzlement; forgery; handling stolen
goods; money laundering; piracy (specifically intellectual property. Note that
piracy can also refer to the attacking of ships at sea in order to commit a
robbery); possessing something with intent to damage or destroy property;
robbery (if the robber is armed, this is called armed robbery); theft.
Public order offences: committing a breach of the peace; drug dealing (the moving
of drugs from one country to another is called drug trafficking); misuse of drugs;
obscenity; obstruction of the police; possessing weapons; unlawful assembly.
Road traffic offences: careless or reckless driving; driving without a licence or
insurance; drunk in charge.
Sexual offences: bigamy; indecency; paedophilia; rape.
Political offences: breach of the Official Secrets Act; bribery (especially if the
person being bribed is a Member of Parliament); espionage; sedition; terrorism;
Offences against justice: aiding and abetting an offender; bribery (especially if the
person being bribed is, for example, a police officer or a juror); conspiracy;
contempt of court; perjury; perverting the course of justice.

Name the offence

1. TV Newsreader: Police believe the fire was started deliberately at around
2 o'clock this morning when burning paper was pushed through the
letterbox. They are appealing for witnesses to the event.
2. Crown Prosecutor: Tell us in your own words exactly what happened.
Witness: We were in the bar when a man walked up to the victim, pointed
a gun at his head and said 'You're a dead man.' Then he pulled the trigger
three times.
3. Police constable: You were going in excess of 60, and this is a 30 zone.
Man in car: I think you're mistaken, constable. I was well within the
speed limit.
4. Woman: When I got home, I discovered that my back door had been
broken open.
Police officer: Had anything been stolen?
Woman: Yes, my new laptop, 200 in cash and my pet parrot.
5. Police officer: I'm sorry sir, but I have to report your actions to the proper
Man: Look, officer, here's 50. Let's just pretend this didn't happen, eh?

Name the offence (2)

6. Extract from a newspaper article: The two men were arrested and
detained after police checks revealed that they had been
distributing pornographic material over the Internet.
7. Interviewing detective: All right, Dagsy. We know you didn't do the
Cornmarket Street bank job yourself, but we know that you were
involved somehow.
Police suspect: I was just driving the car Mr Regan, honest. And I
didn't know what the others were up to until they came back with
bags of cash.
8. TV newsreader: The car bomb went off in a busy marketplace,
injuring several shoppers.
9. Radio newsreader: The police raided a house in New Street this
morning and recovered 250 illegal copies of the latest Harry Potter
film, along with professional film copying equipment.
10. Man reading newspaper: I don't believe it. The Foreign Minister
has been caught giving government secrets to another country!

Name the offence (3)

11. Political agitator: Now is the time to rise up and overthrow the running
dogs that call themselves our government. Death to the Prime Minister
and his cronies! Death to the Royal Family! Death to the system that
bleeds us dry and abandons us!
Unwashed anarchist hordes: Hooray!
12. Shop assistant: I can't accept this 20 note, madam. It's a fake.
Customer: What? You mean it's counterfeit?
Shop assistant: I'm afraid so. Do you have any other means of payment?
13. Extract from a newspaper article: The investigation into the rail
accident confirmed that it occurred because the rail company had failed
to maintain the tracks properly over a five-year period. Eight people
died when the train left the tracks and hit an embankment.
14. Police officer: Take your time and tell me what happened, dear.
Pensioner: The man who came to my door said he had come to read the
electric meter, so I let him in. I went to the kitchen to make him a cup
of tea. When I returned he had gone, and so had my television.
15. TV newsreader: A journalist working in the city disappeared this
morning. Police later received a note from a militant faction claiming
that they had taken him and were holding him hostage.

Law breakers

Law breakers (2)

Chapter summary
Law may be categorised in a number of ways, although the
various categories are not mutually exclusive.
Common law and civil law relate to distinct legal systems. The
English legal system is a common law one as opposed to
continental systems, which are based on civil law.
Common law and equity distinguish the two historical sources
and systems of English law. Common law emerged in the
process of establishing a single legal system throughout the
country. Equity was developed later to soften the formal rigour
of the common law. The two systems are now united, but in the
final analysis, equity should prevail.
Common law and statute relate to the source of law. Common
law is judge made; statute law is produced by parliament.
Private law and public law relate to whom the law is addressed.
Private law relates to individual citizens, whereas public law
relates to institutions of government.
Civil law and criminal law distinguish between law, the purpose
of which is to facilitate the interaction of individuals and law
that is aimed at enforcing particular standards of behaviour.