How the judicial system works
The United Kingdom has three different judicial systems one for England and Wales, another for Scotland and a third for Northern Ireland. Heres some basic information about each system and how it affects you.
In England and Wales
Criminal law covers the most serious crimes, such as murder, robbery and assault.These laws are enforced by the police and the courts, and anyone who breaks them can be prosecuted in court. If they are found guilty, they can then be fined, sent to prison, or given community sentences.
In criminal law each person is innocent until proven guilty. For someone to be found guilty of breaking the law, the evidence must show that their guilt is beyond reasonable doubt.
Civil law mostly involves disputes between people, companies or other organisations. In civil law, cases must be proved by what the law calls the balance of probabilities.
In other words, there has to be more than a 50 per cent probability that the defendant is responsible.
In both criminal and civil cases, the prosecution and defence try to prove to the court that they are right and the other side is wrong.
In criminal cases a jury decides whether they are guilty, and the judge issues their sentence.
In civil and family cases, the judge decides who is right based on the evidence presented.
- Civil justice
- Criminal justice
The judicial system in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland's legal system is similar to that in England and Wales. The Lord Chancellor is responsible for court administration through the Northern Ireland Court Service. The Northern Ireland Office deals with policy and legislation concerning criminal law, the police and the prison system.
Follow the links below for more information on Northern Ireland's judicial system.
The judicial system in Scotland
The Scottish Executive Justice Department oversees issues involving civil and criminal law.
The Scottish Parliament makes laws on issues where it has the right to act independently. In those matters, it can change or reject acts of the UK Parliament, and pass new, separate legislation for Scotland.
- Government in Scotland
The European Convention on Human Rights is now built into UK law. It protects your right to a fair trial, freedom of thought and expression, and respect for your family and private life.
All public authorities, including the courts, must comply with these rights. However, if they conflict with an act of Parliament, the courts can make a declaration of incompatibility and Parliament must then decide what to do.
- Human rights
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