Home » What is the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Law?

Criminal and civil law are two distinct branches of the legal system that govern society. While both types of law involve legal proceedings, they differ significantly in their purpose, procedures, and how they are dealt with by the legal system.


What is Civil Law?

Civil law is the branch of law that deals with disputes between individuals or entities, typically involving private rights and obligations. It encompasses various legal issues and aims to resolve disputes through compensation or other remedies rather than punishment.

In civil law, the primary goal is to restore the injured party to their pre-dispute state or compensate them for any harm or loss. The burden of proof in civil cases is generally lower than in criminal cases, with the plaintiff (the party bringing the lawsuit) required to prove their case on a balance of probabilities. This means that the plaintiff must demonstrate that it is more likely than not that their version of events is true.

What is Criminal Law?

On the other hand, criminal law concerns offences that are committed in spite of the law.

Criminal law aims to maintain social order, protect the community, deter criminal behaviour, and punish those who violate the law.

Types of Cases

Civil Cases

Civil cases cover various legal disputes between individuals, businesses, or other entities. Some common types of civil cases include disputes over contractual obligations, insurance claims, or employment.

Criminal Cases

Criminal cases involve offences against the state or society. Some common types of criminal cases include Assault, Theft, Murder, Drug offences, and Fraud.


Burden of Proof

In Civil Cases

In civil cases, the burden of proof rests with the plaintiff, who must prove their case on a balance of probabilities. This means that the plaintiff must present enough evidence to convince the court that it is more likely than not that their version of events is true. The standard of proof is lower than in criminal cases, where guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Criminal Cases

In criminal cases, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution, who must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This requires the prosecution to present evidence that is so convincing that there is no reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors or judge. If there is any reasonable doubt, the defendant must not be determined as guilty.


Parties Involved in Civil Matters

In civil cases, the parties involved are the plaintiff and the defendant. The plaintiff is the party bringing the lawsuit, seeking to enforce their rights or obtain compensation for harm or loss. The defendant is the party being sued against whom the plaintiff seeks a legal remedy.

Civil cases are generally dealt with in Court only as a last resort, with many cases resolving without having to be brought before the Court.

Parties Involved in Criminal Matters

In criminal cases, the parties involved are the prosecution and the defendant. The prosecution represents the state and brings the charges against the defendant on behalf of society. The defendant is the individual or entity accused of committing a crime and is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Unlike Civil matters, criminal charges often begin in the Court. Specifically, all criminal charges will commence in the Magistrates Court and thereafter be handled in an appropriate Court depending on the nature of the offending that is being alleged.


Dealing with Civil Matters

The consequences of civil cases typically involve monetary compensation or specific performance. Monetary compensation may include damages to cover the plaintiff’s financial losses, such as medical bills, property damage, or lost wages. The court may order specific performance to enforce a contract or require the defendant to perform a specific action.

Dealing with Criminal Matters

The consequences of criminal cases can be more severe, including fines, probation, community service, or imprisonment. The specific consequences depend on the nature and severity of the crime committed and the applicable laws and sentencing guidelines.

The role of the criminal court is to either determine a person’s guilt, or to punish a guilty person.


How Greenhalgh Pickard Can Help

If you require legal assistance in civil or criminal matters, consulting with a lawyer is always recommended. We can provide specialist advice and guide you through the legal process to achieve the best possible outcome.




The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of a professional. This information does not consider your personal circumstances and may not reflect the most current legal developments. Should you need advice, please contact our firm for targeted information relating to personal your situation.