Many people get confused by civil law vs criminal law. They make up the two main branches of law in the UK and cases relating to each branch are dealt with differently in a trial. They also call for different types of punishment.
The difference between these types of law is dealt with in many introductory modules in the first year of an LLB degree so that students have a contextual understanding on which to base their legal studies.
Criminal law relates to the offences that negatively affect society as a whole, rather than just one person. Criminal laws are put in place by Parliament to prevent breaches of conduct which they deem as harmful towards the whole of society.
If a person breaches criminal law, then they will face criminal prosecution by the state. Criminal proceedings are brought by the Crown Prosecution Service and will be heard in Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. If you are then convicted, you may receive a prison sentence or a community order.
The standard of proof for criminal law cases is “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “certain so you can be sure.” These both mean the same thing.
Examples of criminal offences include:
Find out how much you know about criminal law:
Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Criminal Law?
Civil law is more concerned with cases between individual people where one person commits an offence which is harmful towards another person, their rights or their property. Civil law also settles disputes between individuals and organisations.
If you are convicted of a civil offence, you are not likely to be sent to prison, but most often will become liable for compensation.
The standard of proof for civil law cases is “the balance of probabilities.” However, certain civil offences such as disciplinary proceedings for solicitor misconduct can use the higher standard of “beyond reasonable doubt.”
Examples of civil offences include:
The most noticeable difference between the two systems is what the aim of the cases seems to be. In Civil law, the aim is to put the person who has suffered harm back in the position they were in before the harm occurred – in other words, the aim is to set right an unfair situation.
On the other hand, Criminal Law has the aim of punishing the offender in a way that is designed to prevent them from carrying out the offence again. Moreover, the existence of laws preventing crime has a more general aim of creating a stable and law-abiding society.
Another difference as highlighted above is that civil cases are brought by individuals or a single organisation whereas criminal cases are brought by the government through the CPS.
Moreover, there is a difference with regard to appealing these cases if you disagree with the verdict. Both parties can appeal in a civil case whereas only the defendant can bring an appeal in a criminal case.
Words: Alicia Gibson
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