The balance of probabilities is the standard of proof used in civil law cases.
A standard of proof is the extent to which you have to prove something for it to be accepted by a Court. So, for example, if you are trying to prove that you lost £1,000 in earnings following a personal injury, you will need to provide enough evidence to satisfy a Court that, on the balance of probabilities, you incurred that loss.
What is actually meant by the balance of probabilities?
To prove something on the balance of probabilities is to prove that it is ‘more likely than not’. So, going back to the example above, you would have to prove that it was ‘more likely than not’ that you had incurred your £1,000 lost earnings, in order to meet the required standard of proof.
It might also help to think of the balance in terms of actual probabilities. If two competing versions of events are considered to be equally likely, you could picture them as being equally balanced at a 50% chance each. But as soon as one version is considered to be more likely, the scales will tip in its favour, with, for example, a 60% likelihood meaning that the competing version is only 40% likely.
It is important throughout the case
It is not just when (or if) a case goes to Court that the standard of proof becomes important. Lawyers on both sides will use it to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a case. When doing so, they will always have in mind the question: ‘Can that be proved, on the balance of probabilities, if the case ends up in Court?’
When you are making a claim, normally it is for you and your solicitor to prove the different elements of that claim on the balance of probabilities. It is not for the other side to disprove it. This means that a claim can still fail if you do not prove all of the required elements on the balance of probabilities – even if the other side says nothing in their own defence.
These ‘required elements’ will change depending on the claim you are making. For example, in a personal injury claim, you must prove that the other party was responsible for your injury and prove the extent of the harm and other losses you have suffered – all on the balance of probabilities.
The civil law standard of proof
The balance of probabilities only applies to civil law matters. You will probably have heard of the more-famous criminal law standard of proof: beyond reasonable doubt. Just as it sounds, it is a much higher standard of proof than the balance of probabilities.
If you are unclear on the kinds of cases would fall within the civil law, some examples include:
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