Crime against the person: wrongdoing that directly harms a person, e.g. murder or assault
Crime against property: damaging items that belong to somebody else, e.g. vandalism
Crime against the state: an offence aimed at damaging the government or a country, e.g. treason
Religious Offence: an offence against religion, e.g. blasphemy, sacrilege
In Britain the law is divided into two types:
A civil case is a case between private individuals. If I do something that harms you but is not a criminal offence, such as not looking after the boiler in a property that you rent from me, or not paying back a debt I owe you, these are dealt with in civil courts. This section is not too concerned with civil law. Most famous cases of civil law are suing people, which we seem to have imported from America – if I’m involved in an accident I will sue the person driving the other car. This is a matter for the civil courts. No criminal action has been committed when I drive into the back of you but you might need to spend a week off work while you recover from the emotional trauma and think you require compensation for that. Most of these cases will not make it to a courtroom.
Criminal law deals with cases where the laws of the state or country have been broken. It is then the duty of the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) to decide i) is there is enough evidence to prosecute the person and ii) is that prosecution in the public interest. In some cases criminal trials will be heard in a Crown Court with a Judge and Jury (12 men / women who will decide if a person is guilty or innocent). Should the jury find a defendant guilty it is judges job to pass sentence; in other words to decide whether that person should go to prison or suffer some other punishment and how severe that punishment might be.
For example, murder is a criminal offence. If a defendant is found guilty of murder a Judge might sentence them to a custodial sentence (go to prison) for up to life. The details of the case will affect that sentence. Myra Hindley was
sentenced to life imprisonment for multiple murders and for refusing to give details to the Police about where bodies could be found. She died in prison. John Venables and Robert Thompson, who killed the four year old James Bulger, were released after a few years as they were under 18 when the crime was committed.
Within Criminal Law we might further subdivide into:
- Indictable offences – are more serious offences, such as murder, GBH or rape, in which an offender will be brought to court. Often these offences will result in a custodial sentence (prison).
- Non-indictable offences – less serious criminal offences, such as going slightly over the speed limit or drinking in a public place. These might result in an ‘on-the-spot’ fine but you are unlikely to appear in court or go to prison.
A crime against the person is one which directly harms a person. This includes some serious crimes, like murder, GBH (grievous bodily harm) and rape but can be slander (saying something untrue about someone), liable (publishing something untrue about someone) and violent abuse. Around 20% of crimes recorded in England and Wales each year are crimes against the person. Only half of these are violent crimes.
Crimes Against Property
Most crimes are crimes against property; that is damaging items that belong to somebody else. These account for about half of all reported crime in England and Wales each year. These are crimes like vandalism, burglary, and vehicle theft.
Crimes Against the State
These are crimes aimed at damaging the government or a country, such as selling government secrets to an enemy, working to undermine or overthrow the government or evading tax! Tax evasion is by far the most common of these crimes.
Some of these are crimes, some are not. If you consider the Ten Commandments (found in the Torah, Bible and Qur’an) you can see that some, like murder and theft are criminal offences, others, like honouring your mother and father, committing adultery or being jealous of your neighbour’s ass are not.
There are other specific religious offences, such as BLASPHEMY which is insulting God, His churches or temples or any other sacred things. Blasphemy laws in this country used to include simply not being Christian, though now we live in a religiously plural society.