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Common law, as it developed through the Middle Ages, became to be seen as at times rigid and inflexible. As a result, a separate system, the law of equity, was developed by the Court of Chancery to address some of these shortcomings.

Under common law rules, the only remedy to an injured party is damages i.e. financial compensation for his/her loss. There may be circumstances though, where monetary compensation would not adequately compensate the innocent party, for example if the subject of the contract was unique, for example a rare bottle of wine, only one existing in the world. Equity developed a number of new non-monetary remedies such as injunctions and specific performance, which judges could award if damages were not seen to be an adequate remedy. Using the wine example, an order of specific performance, to order the wine seller to comply with the contract, would be a more satisfactory

remedy in this case. Equity also developed the law of trusts. It is a discretionary remedy.

Some equitable principles or ‘maxims’:

  • equity delights in equality
  • equity will not suffer a wrong to be without a remedy
  • delay defeats equity
  • ‘he who cones to equity must do so with clean hands’
  • one who seeks equity must do equity’

Criminal law and civil law

As we have seen criminal law is an example of public law, and civil law is an example of private law. It is important to be very clear as to the differences between the two, as set out in the table below.

Some cases can result in a prosecution under criminal law as well as an action brought privately under civil law.

As well as understanding the difference, it is important to be clear on the differences in terminology between the two, as this kind of distinction will often come up in exam questions.

Criminal Law

Civil law

A form of

Public law

Private law


Deterrent via the threat of punishment


Cases brought by

The state (via the Crown Prosecution Service) in the name of the monarch

Individuals in their own name


R v Smith

Smith v Jones

Bringing the case



Criminal Law

Civil law






Not liable

Name of the party bringing the case



Name of the party defending the case



Jury trial?

Yes, depending upon the severity of the crime

No (with a couple of exceptions)

Burden of proof

Beyond reasonable doubt

On the balance of probabilities

If Defendant loses case

Convicted/guilty. Sentence of imprisonment or a fine

Liable. Damages or possibly an equitable remedy

If Defendant wins case

Not guilty. Acquitted

Not liable

Categories: : Corporate and Business Law (LW)