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What is the difference between civil law and criminal law?

Legal books and gavelCivil law and criminal law make up two main systems of law in the UK, but people are often confused by the two systems and use each term incorrectly. There are key differences between them, including the way in which they are dealt with during trial and the punishments that are received.

So, what is the difference between civil law and criminal law? 

To answer that question, we first need to fully understand these two systems of law.

What is civil law?

Civil law typically concerns itself with cases that are between individual people - usually when one person commits an offence that is deemed harmful towards another person, their rights or their property. Civil law is also used to help settle disputes not only between individuals, but also between organisations.

Those who are convicted of a civil offence usually become liable for compensation. A standard of proof is used for civil law cases based on “the balance of probabilities”, although some civil offences, such as disciplinary proceedings for solicitors misconduct, may use the higher standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Some examples of a civil offence include:

  • Personal injury
  • Employment tribunals
  • Negligence
  • Breaches of contract

What is criminal law?

Criminal law relates to all offences that negatively affect society as a whole, as opposed to just one single person. The laws within the criminal law system are put in place by parliament to prevent acts being carried out that are deemed harmful towards all of society.

If someone chooses to breach criminal law then they face criminal prosecution. This will result in criminal proceedings being brought by The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and a case will be heard in Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. If the alleged criminal is then convicted of the crime, they may face a prison sentence or a community order as punishment.

For criminal law cases, the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “certain so you an be sure”. These each mean the same thing.

Some examples of a criminal offence include:

  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Sexual Offences
  • Burglary
  • Assault
  • Fraud

The differences between civil law and criminal law

The main difference between civil law and criminal law is what the aim of their cases seems to be. With civil law, the aim is to simply set right an unfair situation, while criminal law aims to punish an offender in a way that makes them reflect on their actions and prevents them from carrying out the offence again in the future. Furthermore, crime preventing laws have a general aim of creating a more stable, safe and law-abiding society.

Another difference of note is that civil cases are brought by individuals or an organisation, while criminal cases are brought by the government through the CPS. There are also differences with the way in which appeal cases are made should the accused disagree with the final verdict - in a civil case, each party can appeal, whereas with a criminal case only the defendant can bring an appeal.

Here at Fonseca Law our expert legal team offer a wide range of legal services. For a discussion on how we can help you with your case, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Please call 01495 303124, e-mail enquiries@fonsecalaw.co.uk or complete our simple online contact form.