Adversarial Versus Inquisitorial Systems of Trial and Investigation in Criminal Procedure

  • John Gunn
  • Paul Mevis


This essay compares and contrasts the two main legal systems used in Europe. Every jurisdiction has a slightly different variation of the system it uses. These variations are not discussed in detail as the principles can be fairly well generalised without them. It is recognised that both systems are attempting to achieve the same result even though the approaches seem to be contrasting. Three key issues are discussed, the responsibility of the judge in a trial, the position of the accused and the influence of the pre-trial investigation. The usual distinction between the two systems is that the common law system tends to be case centred and thus judge centred, whereas the civil law system tends to be codified by the general abstract principles. However it is clear that within Europe, the two systems are to some extent converging partly because of the influence of the European Court of Human Rights. The historical roots of the two systems are briefly outlined. In this historical development, it is noted that the confession has full centuries been regarded as a gold standard of proof. This old certainty is now being questioned, particularly in the light of psychological investigations. The very difficult problem of the reduction of criminal liability because of mental ill health is discussed. The general conclusion is that, in the end, it is not the system of criminal procedure that decides whether the outcome of a trial is fair and just, but the way in which the lawyers and others work together.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Gunn
    • 1
  • Paul Mevis
    • 2
  1. 1.King’s College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Criminal Law and Criminal ProcedureErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands

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