I. What is a civil case?
A civil case relates to the legal rights and obligations between two or more persons or institutions. In the event that the parties concerned cannot resolve a dispute themselves, either party may start a civil litigation. This is done in order to seek an independent and impartial tribunal's or court's determination as to whether one's legal rights and obligations are being infringed, and if so, to obtain appropriate compensation and remedy.
Civil litigation should be distinguished from criminal litigation. The main difference is that civil litigation is normally undertaken by an individual to seek monetary compensation, to recover properties, or to enforce obligations, while the criminal litigation is instituted in the name of the Government (i.e. the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) to suppress crime and to punish criminals.
A person or a company or even the Government can be a party in a civil case. The party who sues is called "the plaintiff" or "the claimant", and the party being sued is called "the defendant" or "the respondent". The plaintiffs/claimants have a duty to prove that what they claim is correct based on the balance of probabilities (i.e. it is more likely than not that what they claim is true).
The following are some common examples of civil litigation:
- Debt Recovery
Example: You may start a civil action to recover a debt if someone owes you money but refuses to pay.
- Claiming Compensation
Example: You may start a civil action to claim monetary compensation if someone has failed to perform an obligation under a contract, wrongfully damaged your property or injured you. In litigation documents, a claim for monetary compensation is referred to as a claim for damages.
- Claiming Possession of Property
Example: You may start a civil action to terminate a tenancy and repossess your flat if your tenant has failed to pay rent or breached certain terms of the tenancy agreement. In addition, you may claim for the unpaid rent or other losses that you might have suffered.
- Infringement of Copyright
Example: You have published a book and someone sells photocopies of this book without your permission. You may start a civil action to obtain a court order prohibiting the person from selling the photocopies and forcing them to hand over to you all the remaining photocopies. You may in addition claim monetary compensation for the loss in sales that you have suffered.
If you want to obtain more information regarding the differences between civil litigation and criminal litigation, please go to another topic – Hong Kong Legal System.