Criminal law is a branch of law that deals with the punishment of an oﬀender for wrongs committed against society. The ‘wrong’ or crime can be an act (for example stealing) or an omission to act (failure to drive carefully) which the courts consider punishable so as to deter others from committing the oﬀence. In such circumstances, the courts will deal with the oﬀender by sentencing him or her to a term of imprisonment or by imposing other forms of non-custodial sentence such as ordering the oﬀender to pay a ﬁne, serve a community service order or be placed on probation. It can thus be said that the purpose of criminal law is not only to protect societal interests but also to maintain and regulate societal conduct and behaviour. Who therefore bears this responsibility of protecting the public? It is the
government, which is why it is the government that generally initiates criminal proceedings (prosecutes) in the courts. For example, in HKSAR v Wong, it is the Hong Kong government against the person charged – Wong, who is also known as the defendant in the case. Before a defendant can be convicted, it is the prosecutor’s duty to prove the defendant’s guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ (see Kwan Ping Bong v R (1979) HKLR 1). If reasonable doubt is created in respect of any elements of the oﬀence with which the defendant is charged, the prosecution is said not to have made its case and the defendant will be acquitted. The standard of proof coupled with the presumption that a defendant is innocent unless proven guilty (presumption of innocence) imposes an onerous burden on the prosecutor.