Inquisitorial System Law and Legal Definition
An inquisitorial system is a legal system where the court is actively involved in proof taking by investigating the facts of the case. It is opposed to an adversarial system where the role of the court is primarily that of an impartial referee between the prosecution and the defense.
Inquisitorial systems are used in some countries with civil legal systems as opposed to case law systems. In the U.S. inquisitorial system may be used for summary hearings in the case of misdemeanors such as minor traffic violations In fact, the distinction between an adversarial and inquisitorial system is theoretically unrelated to the distinction between a civil legal and case law system. However, some legal scholars consider inquisitorial as misleading, and prefer the word nonadversarial. In McNeil v. Wis., 501 U.S. 171, 181 (U.S. 1991), it was held that preference for an inquisitorial system is a preference not to require the presence of counsel during an investigatory interview where the interviewee has not requested it.
In addition, the inquisitorial system also applies to questions of criminal procedure as opposed to questions of substantive law. It determines how criminal enquiries and trials are conducted, not the kind of crimes for which one can be prosecuted, nor the sentences that they carry. It is most readily used in some civil legal systems. However, some jurists do not recognize this dichotomy and see procedure and substantive legal relationships as being interconnected and part of a theory of justice as applied differently in various legal cultures.
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