Civil law is a form of private law and involves the relationship between individual citizens. It is the legal mechanism through which individuals can assert claims against others and have those rights adjudicated and enforced. The purpose of civil law is to settle disputes between individuals and to provide remedies; it is not concerned with punishment as such. The role of the state in relation to civil law is to establish the general framework of legal rules and to provide the legal institutions to operate those rights, but the activation of the civil law is strictly a matter for the individuals concerned. Contract, tort and property law are generally aspects of civil law.
Civil law may be defined in opposition to three alternatives.
- Civil as opposed to criminal law.
- Civil in the sense of secular law, as opposed to ecclesiastical or other forms of religious law.
- Civil law as a legal system, based on a code of laws, as opposed to the common law system, based on the doctrine of precedent.
Types of Civil Law
The law of contract is concerned with the formation and interpretation (or ‘construction’) of written or oral agreements between companies or individuals. A contract does not have to be written down to be a binding contract. Disputes over contracts may concern whether or not a contract ever came into existence, what its various terms and conditions actually meant, whether one party has broken (‘breached’) the contract and, if so, what remedy (such as damages, an injunction or specific performance) should be ordered.
A tort is a legal wrong. A claim based on a tort usually requires the claimant to establish that the defendant owed a ‘duty of care’ and that they broke that duty. Classic types of claim in tort are those based on negligence, nuisance, defamation, misuse of private information, etc. Sometimes a claim may involve both contract and tort, but a claim based in tort does not require there to be any contract between the parties, simply that one of them owed the other a duty. Such a duty may have been developed either at common law or under a statute.
Company law is concerned with the formation and regulation of companies and corporations, which are separate legal persons from the individuals who own them (usually by acquiring shares in the capital value of the company), known as ‘members’, and those who manage and direct their activities, known as ‘directors’. When a company’s debts exceed its income and capital it becomes insolvent, and may be put into administration or, eventually, wound up altogether. There may be claims by different classes of creditor and regulatory proceedings may be taken against the directors. Company law covers all these matters.
Revenue law deals with disputes over the assessment of taxes and duties levied on organisations and individuals by the government. Types of tax include income tax, corporation tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, VAT etc are all covered. Revenue law is so called after the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (responsible for levying duties such as import duty, excise duty etc).
Intellectual Property Law
IP law as it is often called is concerned with rights and duties relating to patents, designs, copyright and trade marks. Patents protect scientific inventions which often have an industrial or commercial value. Design rights protect the commercial value of a product’s design. Copyright is concerned with artistic works, whether written, composed or created in some other artistic way (thus a painting or illustration would generally be protected by copyright rather than a design right). Trade marks protect the identity and reputation of businesses. Claims for ‘passing off’ (where a business passes itself or its products off as being those of another business) are also considered part of intellectual property law. Some intellectual property rights have to be registered before they can be enforced but others do not. Disputes may arise over whether a person was entitled to register the right and whether such registration was valid.
Media and Communications Law
Media law deals with disputes over the regulation of and the content published or broadcast by media organisations and individuals (such as journalists) who generate that content. Information law is concerned with rights (such as Freedom of Information) and duties (such as data protection) relating to information. Communications law includes telecommunications, the internet and social media, though there is considerable overlap with media and information law.
Family law and the Court of Protection
Family law is concerned with marriage and divorce, children, and matrimonial finance. Some issues involving children are described as private law cases, because they only involve private individuals (usually the parents or guardians) but other disputes, such as care proceedings involving the local authority and other parties, are described as public law cases.
Cases involving children may relate to medical treatment for which, by virtue of their age, or lack of capacity, they are unable to provide consent. Similar cases involving adults lacking capacity are dealt with by the Court of Protection, which also deals with administrative issues such as where an adult lacking capacity should live and decisions about their financial affairs.
Cases Under Civil Law
Medlog Zimbabwe (Private) Limited v Cost Benefit Holdings (Private) Limited Judgement No. SC24/18 Civil Appeal No. SC455/16
The respondent issued summons out of the High Court seeking an order for the release of its plastic bags which were being retained by the appellant, payment of the sum of US$157 350.05 representing the business it lost as a result of such retention and costs of suit on the scale of legal practitioner and client. The respondent also sought payment of interest from the date of issue of summons to the date of payment in full.
After hearing evidence and submissions from the parties, the court a quo ordered the appellant to pay the sum of $157 350.05 to the respondent being damages for loss of business, interest on that sum at the prescribed rate and costs of suit on the ordinary scale. The present appeal is against that order.
- https://www.iclr.co.uk/knowledge/topics/the-english-legal-system/], The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales, Accessed: 30 September, 2020
- , Judicial Service Commission, Accessed: 30 September, 2020