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Civil Law vs Criminal Law: Key Differences

Civil Law vs Criminal Law: Key Differences

The law is divided into two categories: civil law and criminal law.

Conflicts between private parties are governed by civil law. Such as- individuals or organizations. In contrast, crimes and frauds against the government are supervised by criminal law.

Keeping that in mind, malpractice and negligence are common civil law cases. On the flip side- assault, battery, arson, and murder are standard criminal charges.

What to learn more? Read on this civil law vs criminal law discussion. You will know- what is the difference between criminal and civil law along with similarities.

What is Criminal Law?

A crime is deemed as an offence against society as a whole. That’s why- criminal prosecution is usually initiated by the state. In addition, the Criminal Code and other federal laws define criminal offences.

Here, the accused is the person who has been charged with a crime. Until proven guilty, the accused is presumed innocent.

Two types of criminal laws

There are two distinct types of criminal laws- Indictable offences and Summary conviction offences. Learn about them below.

Indictable offences: These are more serious. And they involve theft, breaking & entering, and murder.

Summary conviction offences: These are minor cases, such as causing a disturbance.

What is Civil Law?

A civil case is a private lawsuit in which one party sues another. A suit or action is another name for this.

The Crown prosecutes an accused under a public-law statute. That includes- Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in a criminal case.

In civil cases, individuals or corporations can disagree on a legal matter. That could be the terms of a contract, the ownership of a piece of property, or civil action or suit initiated.

If you are hurt, or your property is damaged, a civil suit can be filed. For example, if you break your legs on an icy stairwell, you can sue for physical damages.

In civil law, the plaintiff is the individual who files the lawsuit. And the defendant is the person who is being sued.

Bear in mind that civil cases are challenging to understand. And there are three stages to a suit- pleadings, discovery, and trial.

Civil law vs Criminal law: 6 Key Differences

Even if the immediate harm is to an individual, criminal cases are usually against the state. Thus, the state prosecutes them accordingly.

In contrast, civil cases usually involve disagreements between people about their legal obligations and responsibilities to one another. Also, civil lawsuits are used to resolve these disputes.

If you look closely- there are several ways to distinguish between criminal and civil cases. Yet, there are some overlaps. We will talk about that more later on.

Now, let’s identify the differences between civil and criminal law.

1. Crimes are acts of offence against the state

That is to say, even if one person murders a specific person, the murder is considered an offence by all members of society.

As a result, the state prosecutes crimes against the state. Next, the prosecutor files the case in court as the state’s representative. If it were a civil case, the party who had been wronged would file it.

2. The Standard of Proof

In general, crimes must be proved more than just reasonable doubt. In contrast, civil cases must be proven by the standard of proof.

On the other hand, civil liability is considered less blameworthy. Moreover, the penalties are less severe.

3. Variations in Punishment

In most civil cases, financial damages and orders to do or not do something are known as injunctions. Note that- a criminal case may include both jail time and monetary penalties in the form of fines.

In general, criminal cases have severe consequences. For example- jail time and death. Also, know that- they have many more safeguards in place. Thus, they are extra tricky to prove.

4. The Right to Representation by a Lawyer

In a criminal case, a defendant has the right to get a lawyer. If they cannot afford one, the state must provide one.

In a civil case, defendants do not have the right to have a lawyer. Hence, they must represent themselves if they cannot afford one.

5. Trials by Jury

A jury trial is almost always allowed in criminal cases. In some civil cases, juries are permitted. But most civil cases are decided by a judge.

6. Rights and Protection of the Defendant

The criminal law provides significant protections to defendants. For instance-  the protection against illegal searches. But many of these well-known safeguards are unavailable to a civil defendant.

Do Criminal Law & Civil Law Intersect?

Criminal vs civil law showed us several differences. Now, let’s look at the similarities.

In both laws, the victim is an individual or entity (agency, business, or corporation) who is – injured, harmed, killed, or has their property rights violated.

The court’s decision can also be appealed in both types of cases. The appeals process can be used to overturn the initial decision.

A criminal act may give way to civil liability in some circumstances. Let’s say a person is charged with homicide. Also, the person is sued for wrongful death at the same time.

So, there are two types of issues. Thus, two kinds of laws have to take care of the cases. Considering that, the civil portion of the case will be heard after the criminal trial is completed.

The parties are entitled to a lawyer in both types of laws. The main difference is that if you cannot afford a lawyer in criminal cases, one will be appointed to you.

Although there are some differences between civil and criminal cases, having a lawyer who has handled both will benefit you in any situation.

In essence

The fundamental difference is- only criminal law cases are heard in the criminal court system. In contrast, civil laws deal with people’s private rights.

And these are the major similarities of both laws. The victim is an individual or entity such as an agency, business, or corporation who is- harmed, injured, killed, or has their property rights violated. In addition, the court’s decision can also be appealed in both types of cases.

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