Which Area of Law Does My Problem Fall Under?
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This section provides an overview of the different areas of law: civil, family, and criminal.
Generally, law is described as either criminal or civil. All civil matters fall into one of two categories: general civil law and family law.
General civil law
Civil law deals with disputes between people or organizations. This includes disputes about contracts, wills, property, and personal injury. An example of a civil dispute is when one person owes another person money. One good starting point is the section on Civil Law from the Justice Education Society of BC website Courts of BC.
General civil law also includes Administrative Law, which involves a legal action between a person or organization and a government agency such as the Residential Tenancy Branch, or the Labour Relations Board of BC. Some administrative law cases ask for a review of a decision at a hearing in front of a special board called a tribunal.
Good starting points to learn more about administrative law include:
- Administrative Law BC is a website that explains what administrative law is and provides a directory of over 100 tribunals and agencies, and further help.
- The common question I’m preparing for a tribunal. Where can I find out what to do?
Family law generally involves issues that have to be decided when an intimate relationship breaks down, and can also involve issues about the care of children. Examples of family law issues include how to divide property between separating spouses, where children will live, and how family members will be financially supported.
Good starting points to learn more about family law include:
- Introduction to Family Law from the Canadian Bar Association gives an overview of topics such as common problems, related laws, and words and phrases.
- Introduction to the Legal System for Family Matters in JP Boyd on Family Law provides information on the courts of British Columbia, including the types of claims heard in each court.
- Family Law in BC is a website from Legal Services Society that has a wide range of family law information from basic fact sheets to self-help kits to complete court forms.
Everyone in Canada must obey Canadian criminal laws, most of which are found in the Criminal Code of Canada. If someone breaks one of these laws, they can be charged with a criminal offence. The government, usually referred to as “the Crown”, takes them to court. An example of a criminal offence is shoplifting.
The criminal law process is very different from civil law. To learn more about the criminal law process, good starting points include:
- Criminal Law from the Justice Education Society, provides a brief overview of criminal law.
- Charging Someone with a Criminal Offence, from the Canadian Bar Association, and If You are Charged with a Crime from the Legal Services Society provide basic information on criminal law procedure.
- Representing Yourself in a Criminal Trial from Legal Services Society provides legal information for people who are defending themselves in criminal court.
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