The main difference between criminal and civil proceedings is that the former are instituted under the name of the HKSAR to suppress crimes and to punish criminals, while the latter are taken to protect and to recover properties or to enforce obligations.
The Secretary for Justice of the HKSAR Government has overall responsibility for conducting criminal prosecutions in Hong Kong. It is for the Secretary and those who prosecute on the Secretary's behalf to decide whether or not a prosecution should be instituted in any particular case. In determining whether or not to prosecute, the Secretary considers two issues: First, is the evidence sufficient to justify the institution of proceedings? Second, if it is, does the public interest require a prosecution to take place? In making that decision the Secretary for Justice is not subject to any instructions or directions from Government Executive bodies.
Some of the important principles in criminal cases include:
Civil proceedings can be instituted by: i) The Government against individuals (including private corporations) and vice versa; or ii) individuals against other individuals.
The principal branches of civil law include contract, tort, property, administrative, family and revenue law. The standard of proof is based on the balance of probabilities and is easier to discharge in a civil case than in a criminal case.