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Penal and Remedial Proceedings

Legal proceedings have been divided into five distinct classes, namely,

  1. actions for specific enforcement,
  2. actions for restitution,
  3. actions for penal redress,
  4. penal actions, and
  5. criminal prosecutions.

It must now be observed that the last three of these contain a common element which is absent from the others, namely, the idea of punishment. In all these three forms of procedure the ultimate purpose of the law is in whole or in part the punishment of the defendant. This is equally so, whether he is imprisoned, or compelled to pay a pecuniary penalty to a common informer, or is held liable in damages to the person injured by him. All these proceedings, therefore, may be classed together as penal, and as the sources of penal liability . The other forms, namely, specific enforcement and restitution, contain no such penal element, the idea of punishment is entirely foreign to them; and they may be classed together as remedial, and as the sources of remedial liability. From the point of view of legal theory this distinction between penal and remedial liability is, as we shall see, of even greater importance than that between criminal and civil liability. It will be noted that all criminal proceedings are at the same time penal, but that the converse is not true, some civil proceedings being penal while others are merely remedial.

It may be objected that this explanation fails to distinguish between penal liability and criminal, inasmuch as punishment is stated to be the essential element in each. The answer to this objection is that we must distinguish between the ulterior and the immediate purposes of the law. Proceedings are classed as criminal or civil in respect of their immediate aim ; they are distinguished as penal or remedial in respect of their entire purpose, remote as well as immediate. One way of punishing a wrongdoer is to impose some new obligation upon him, and to enforce the fulfilment of it. He may be compelled to pay a penalty or damages. Whenever this course is adopted, the immediate design of the law is the enforcement of the right to the penalty or damages, but its ulterior design is the punishment of the wrong out of which this right arose. In respect of the former the proceedings are civil, not criminal ; while in respect of the latter they are penal, not remedial. Penal proceedings, therefore, may be defined as those in which the object of the law, immediate or ulterior, is or includes the punishment of the defendant. All others are remedial, the purpose of the law being nothing more than the enforcement of the plaintiff’s right, and the idea of punishment being irrelevant and inapplicable.

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