Legal process refers to the lawful procedure followed in a civil lawsuit or criminal case. The legal process varies for the civil lawsuit and the criminal case.
The state prosecutes the offender in a criminal case under public law. This is because a crime is usually considered an offense against the state as a whole hence the state starts the prosecution. The legal process in a criminal case usually follows these basic steps:
Arrest: The police make the arrest following set procedures to safeguard the rights of the accused. They explain the specific charge and reasons for the arrest as well as explain to the accused that they have a right to consult a lawyer immediately.
Custody: The accused is then taken to a holding cell as he or she waits to appear before a judge. The accused is presented in court less than 24 hours after the arrest. The judge then decides whether to have a pre-trial release or set bail for the defendant. If the state has strong reasons, the release on bail is denied. If no bail is set and the accused not released, the case goes to trial. There are two types of offenses that determine the type of trial:
- Summary conviction offense where the offense is minor: Here the accused appears before a judge in a provisional court and the trial proceeds immediately. If the defendant is found guilty, she or he is either fined or given a short jail term of 6 months or both.
- Indictable offense whereby the accused has the choice of having their case heard by the judge alone or with a jury present. In some situations, the judge might order a preliminary hearing to establish the presence of sufficient evidence to proceed with the case. If such evidence is not available, the judge may decide to dismiss the case.
Trial: A criminal trial comes with a lot of stigma for the accused and his family. Due to this stigma, the state has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the offense. In a criminal trial, the defendant is not required to give any evidence. In a case where the accused if not found guilty, he or she is released and is free to go. If the judge establishes that the accused is guilty, he gives him an appropriate sentence.
Appeal: The accused has the right to appeal the court’s decision in a higher court.
A civil lawsuit and a criminal case are different in that; a civil lawsuit is a private case where one person sues the other whereas a in a criminal case, it’s the state that starts the prosecution. The person suing is referred to as a plaintiff while the person being sued is referred to as a defendant. Civil cases go through the following steps:
Pleadings: The plaintiff files a case in court and a copy of the same is served to the defendant. After the defendant receives a copy of the case, he is required to give an answer or statement of defence. If he or she fails to do so, it is assumed that the allegations are true. At this stage, lawyers from both sides can decide to settle the matter out of court before the case goes to trial.
Discovery: This step involves a lot of deliberation and research by both sides so as to try and establish the evidence that is to be used in court. The step is usually the longest part of the whole process since the lawyers need to be very keen.
Trial: Civil cases are decided upon based on the balance of probabilities provided in court. Therefore, the plaintiff has to provide facts supporting his or her allegations. The purpose of this is to show that the defendant is legally responsible for the charge. If the facts provided show justification for the compensation being sort by the plaintiff, the defendant is found legally responsible. If the facts do not show any justification, then the defendant is not found legally liable.
In the case where the judge or jury finds the defendant legally liable, a suitable compensation is ordered.