A legal case
is a dispute between opposing parties resolved by a court
, or by some equivalent legal process. A legal case may be either civil or criminal.
A civil case
A civil case, more commonly known as a lawsuit
, begins when a plaintiff
files a document called a complaint
with a court, informing the court of the wrong that the plaintiff has allegedly suffered because of the defendant
, and requesting a remedy
. A civil case can also be arbitrated through arbitration
. The remedy sought may be money, an injunction
, which requires the defendant to perform or refrain from performing some action, or a declaratory judgment
, which determines that the plaintiff has certain legal rights.
The plaintiff must also make a genuine effort to inform the defendant of the case through service of process, by which the plaintiff delivers to the defendant the same documents that the plaintiff filed with the court.
At any point during the case, the parties can agree to a settlement, which will end the case, although in some circumstances, such as in class actions, a settlement requires court approval in order to be binding.
A criminal case
A criminal case
, in common law
jurisdictions, begins when a person suspected of a crime is indicted
by a grand jury or otherwise charged with the offense by a government official called a prosecutor
or district attorney
Like a civil case, a criminal case may also be settled before a trial through a plea bargain, in some jurisdictions.
Legal cases, whether criminal or civil, are premised on the idea that a dispute will be fairly resolved when a legal procedure
exists by which the dispute can be brought to a factfinder not otherwise involved in the case, who can evaluate evidence
to determine the truth with respect to claims of guilt, innocence, liability, or lack of fault. Details of the procedure may depend on both the kind of case and the kind of system in which the case is brought - whether, for example, it is an inquisitorial system
or an adversarial system
Designation and citation
In most systems, the governing body responsible for overseeing the courts assigns a unique number/letter combination or similar designation to each case in order to track the various disputes that are or have been before it. The outcome of the case is recorded, and can later be reviewed by obtaining a copy of the documents associated with the designation previously assigned to the case.
However, it is often more convenient to refer to cases, particularly landmark and otherwise notable cases, by a title of the form Claimant v. Defendant, for example Arkell v Pressdram. Where a legal proceeding does not have formally designated adverse parties, the form In re, Re, In the matter of, etc. is used, for example In re Gault. The "v" separating the parties is an abbreviation of the Latin versus, but in Commonwealth countries is expanded "and" or "against" when spoken, as in Dickens' Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Where it is considered necessary to protect the anonymity of a natural person, some cases may have one or both parties replaced by a standard pseudonym (Jane Roe in Roe v. Wade), or by an initial (D v D). The initial "R" may also be shorthand for the Crown, i.e. Rex/Regina (R v Adams). (For explanation of other terms that may appear in case titles, see the Transwiki:Glossary of legal terms.)