What Is Criminal Law?


Criminal law is an incredibly diverse and challenging field which is constantly evolving. It is primarily concerned with crimes which are punishable by the state, such as theft or murder. Want to know more about the purpose of criminal law or more information about criminal law in Australia? This blog will explore how criminal cases are prosecuted as well as the qualifications you need to become a criminal lawyer.


There are usually two types of criminal law: defence and prosecution. Defence lawyers work to defend those who have been charged with a crime and establish their innocence, while prosecution lawyers work to prosecute those people and establish their guilt.


Criminal law is not always black and white. When a person is suspected of having committed a crime, a criminal case is usually brought against them by the Police, the State, or the Commonwealth. The standard of proof in order to determine guilt is quite stringent, and punishment may consist of a fine, imprisonment, or another penalty or combination of penalties. Criminal proceedings will mostly be undertaken in a courtroom, although there will be much preparation work which occurs outside the courtroom.


In many cases, the first stage of a criminal matter involves the arrest of a person who has been observed or who is under suspicion of having committed a crime. If there is a reasonable prospect of securing a conviction and the public interest requires a prosecution, a person will then be charged with a crime or crimes and proceedings will commence, with the accused appearing in court and being asked to plead guilty or not guilty.


The next stage may involve a committal proceeding whereby a judge will listen to the evidence and decide if the defendant will stand trial in the County/District Court or the Supreme Court. At trial, a judicial officer (and/or a jury) will listen to all the evidence presented, including from witnesses, and determine guilt or innocence. The onus of proof is on the prosecution, who have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime(s). In Commonwealth trials, the decision of the jury must be unanimous, meaning that each member has to agree as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.


In both a hearing and a trial, the judge will then sentence the defendant if the decision reached is guilty, or the matter will be dismissed if the decision is not guilty. The defendant also has a right after the conviction to have the case reviewed by a higher court if they want to contest the decision or the severity of the imposed sentence.


The path to entering criminal law is the same as for many other specialties: completion of an undergraduate (Bachelor of Law) or postgraduate (Juris Doctor) degree in law; fulfillment of PLT; admission to state Admitting Authority; practising certificate from local regulator; and finally, supervised practice within criminal law firms. In some states and territories, it’s also possible to apply for Specialist Accreditation from the local Law society. 


So, why criminal law? Understandably, criminal law involves a very high level of skill and knowledge within the field of law, as well as excellent language, communication, interpersonal, analytical, and creative-thinking skills, and it is one of the most challenging – but also rewarding – legal areas in which to practise.

Interested in obtaining a criminal law degree? Want more information on criminal law jobs and opportunities? Contact us today!