What Is The Difference Between Civil Law And Criminal Law?


The law can be divided into two broad branches; civil and criminal. Both branches have their own set of rules and processes, and both require different sets of knowledge. In most cases, lawyers will practice one or the other so a criminal lawyer won’t take on civil cases though they might offer advice. Some lawyers have the skill and experience to represent both sides efficiently. Here’s a look at the differences between these two fields.

What is Civil Law?


Civil Law deals with private disputes between people, organizations, and entities. These cases don’t involve violation of criminal law and are always filed by a private party. The judge presiding over the case will decide whether a party is liable or not and juries are rarely involved in such cases unless necessary.


What is Criminal Law?


Criminal law deals with crimes that cause physical, mental, or property damage in some form. Cases are usually filed by the local government or similar authorities. Judges preside over these cases but the jury is also present. Verdicts delivered by juries must be unanimous for a defendant to be convicted.


Compensation and Punishment


If a party is found liable in civil law, they don’t receive punishments. They are required to pay compensation for injuries, distress, or damages based on how much damage a claimant sustained. This compensation usually involves money; however, other forms of compensation do exist. Civil cases can also end with an injunction of nuisance, which means the liable party must stop doing an action that causes discomfort or inconvenience.

If a party is found guilty in criminal law, they receive punishments. These usually involve community service, jail terms, and other such options based on the crime and the defendant’s circumstances. Some countries award the death penalty to serious offenders but Canada doesn’t permit capital punishments.


Standard and Burden of Proof


Claimants must provide evidence to justify their case beyond the balance of probabilities, which is known as “Preponderance of Evidence”. The burden of proof lies with them in civil law cases so if they can’t provide sufficient evidence to satisfy a judge, their case is dismissed. Sometimes the burden of proof can shift to the defendant in cases of Res Ipsa Loquitur, which means “the thing speaks for itself”.

In criminal law, “beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard of proof. If the persecutors can’t prove the defendant committed a crime beyond reasonable doubt, no conviction will take place. Everyone is innocent until they’re proven guilty and judged so by a jury of their peers. A criminal lawyer will defend an accused party’s rights to ensure a fair judgment. Everyone accused has the right to legal council from a skilled and qualified professional.


Examples of Civil Law Cases


  • Divorce
  • Child Custody
  • Property Disputes
  • Landlord/Tenant Disputes
  • Personal or Medical Injury Cases
  • Complaints Against Businesses or Corporations


Examples of Criminal Law Cases


  • Theft
  • Physical Assault
  • Sexual Assault
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Human Trafficking
  • Drug Possession or Sale
  • Kidnapping or Illegal Imprisonment
  • Murder

Both fields require adequate representation to ensure laws aren’t misused, claimants or injured parties get justice, and defendants aren’t punished without cause. In civil cases, both claimants and defendants can appeal to a court’s decision while in criminal cases, only defendants can’t appeal to verdicts and prosecutors aren’t allowed to appeal.

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