Civil Law And Criminal Law Differences

Compare Criminal And Civil Law

Law is divided up into two main categories called civil law and criminal law. Civil can be basically categorized as everything that is not criminal. These cases can include property, injury cases, property damage, and a number of other things.


Compare Criminal and Civil Law, Roman pillars on picture
One of the major distinctions in the law is between civil law and criminal law. Although there is sometimes significant gray area between these two branches of law, the major difference between the two is that civil law deals with disputes between individuals, whereas criminal law deals with individuals who have violated laws that dictate certain behaviors, and are therefore seen as an affront to society or the state.
In civil law, there are generally two parties to a lawsuit who are seeking a resolution to some sort of dispute. For example, a person who has been injured through another person's negligence, such as in a car accident, is seeking some sort of compensation for their injury and loss. It also could be a party who is suing another party over a contract dispute, such as a person who is suing a builder for not properly completing promised work, or perhaps the builder who believes he has completed the work properly but is not being paid. In these types of cases, both parties will present their cases, and the court will try to find an equitable solution to the dispute, usually by ordering one party to pay damages to another party. Civil law is a very broad area of the law and can arise out of many situations including employment relationships, landlord and tenant relationships, business transactions, and even family relationships and child custody.
Criminal law is very different. In criminal cases, one party is the defendant, or person who is accused of committing a crime, or violation of statute. The other party is generally a prosecutor who represents the state or the people. In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person committed the crime, and the defendant presents their defense. The court or a jury then decides if the person is guilty or not guilty and then will sentence the person to some form of punishment for their crime which is usually either a fine or imprisonment.
According to William Geldart, Introduction to English Law 146 (D.C.M. Yardley ed., 9th ed. 1984),
"The difference between civil law and criminal law turns on the difference between two different objects which law seeks to pursue - redress or punishment. The object of civil law is the redress of wrongs by compelling compensation or restitution: the wrongdoer is not punished; he only suffers so much harm as is necessary to make good the wrong he has done. The person who has suffered gets a definite benefit from the law, or at least he avoids a loss. On the other hand, in the case of crimes, the main object of the law is to punish the wrongdoer; to give him and others a strong inducement not to commit same or similar crimes, to reform him if possible and perhaps to satisfy the public sense that wrongdoing ought to meet with retribution.”

In addition to these major differences, there are many procedural differences between criminal and civil law. There are usually distinct rules of evidence, rules of procedure, and burdens of proof, and the cases are generally held in different courts. It is therefore important to be represented by an attorney who is experienced in practicing in the respective area of law in which you need representation.


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