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This page attempts to separate the ‘detail’ of criminal laws from their key concepts. But it should be noted that the two do overlap considerably.

Burden of proof

One of the most significant differences between civil and criminal law is the burden of proof. When making a civil claim, a claimant usually only has to prove ‘on the balance of probabilities’ that the defendant acted wrongfully. However, in criminal law, as stated in Woolmington v DPP [1935], the prosecution must prove ‘beyond reasonably doubt’ that the defendant committed the offence in question. That is, if the defendant can raise some (objective) doubt, the defendant should not be found guilty. Though in serious (indictable) crimes, it is for the jury to decide whether that doubt exists or not. Article 6(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998, also requires that a defendant is proved to be guilty. It is not for the defendant to prove anything.

Proof beyond reasonable doubt is a legal burden on the prosecution in all criminal cases. If ever the burden is said to be reversed, it is still for the prosecution to prove to the civil standard that the defendant committed an offence. Often, offences will reference an ‘evidential burden’. That is, it is presumed that one or more elements of an offence are present unless the defendant can show the judge some evidence to the contrary...

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