What is Criminal Law?

Criminal law is a body of laws and legislation drawn up to appropriately penalise those who commit crimes. It also lays out the rules in regard to charging, trying, sentencing and imprisonment where necessary. Criminal law may be associated with thieves and murderers, but it actually reaches out to many areas of everyday life. Different crimes are classified by the seriousness of the crime. Some offences covered by the criminal justice system are:

  • fraud – planning to gain or cause loss through deception
  • domestic abuse – either physical violence or threat of violence
  • cybercrime
  • all forms of theft
  • road traffic offences

An act is made a criminal offence and classed as a crime when it is considered dangerous and damaging to society as a whole. Once an act has been classed as a crime, a suitable punishment, or set of punishments, can be laid out to penalise when the offence has been committed.

Areas of Criminal Law

Within criminal law are three different sections that simplify and set out in what way things should be dealt with. The three sections are:

Substantive criminal law

Substantive criminal law governs:

  • the classification of a crime
  • the way in which the case is handled
  • how the criminal should be penalised
  • which courts are most suitable to deal with the case at hand

Criminal procedure

This section of criminal law lays out the laws on:

  • searching a suspected criminal
  • warrant for arrest
  • seizure of evidence
  • approaching and questioning witnesses
  • constitution rights
  • the rights of appeal

Enforcement of criminal justice

This is the assessment of information gathered from the previous sections on the case and is used to enforce a correct decision on the punishment that should be administered. Some crimes are of course more minor than others, so within criminal law there are different levels of penalty. This could be:

  • restitution – paying for damages caused by the act
  • deterrence – short sentences and punishments given for lesser offences
  • incapacitation – serious punishments given to criminals that are believed to be a danger to the public