Difference Between Civil Law and Criminal Law

Justice is the fair and consistent application of laws and principles to ensure everyone is treated the same way.

Civil and criminal laws are fundamentally different components of a legal system. Civil law concerns disputes between individuals, organisations, or both in which the complainant asserts that the defendant has breached a legal obligation. Typically, the outcome involves the defendant compensating the plaintiff for losses or injury, typically through monetary damages. Individuals and businesses can use civil law to peaceful and orderly resolve disputes.

In contrast, criminal law addresses conduct that is deemed detrimental to society. In criminal proceedings, the government, operating as the prosecutor, brings charges against the accused criminal. In some jurisdictions, the accused is subject to fines, probation, imprisonment, or even the death penalty if found guilty. In addition to punishment, the purpose of criminal law also includes deterrence and rehabilitation. Civil law resolves private disputes and requires reparation, whereas criminal law deals with crimes against society and imposes punishments. This fundamental difference influences each form of law’s procedures, objectives, and outcomes.

What is Civil Law?

Civil law, also called “private law,” is the part of the law that deals with disagreements between private parties, which can be people or organisations or both. This part of the law tries to settle disputes that aren’t crimes, like ones about contracts, land ownership, divorce, child custody, and damages for damage to people or property. The main goal of civil law is to right wrongs and compensate the person who was hurt. For example, if someone breaks a contract, the person hurt by it would file a civil case to get a remedy, usually finance, to compensate for the loss or damage caused by the breach.

Civil law is a way for non-criminal issues to be settled and victims to be compensated. Most civil law cases start with a report from the person who thinks they were wronged against the person who is being accused of doing the wrong. Most of the time, these cases go through steps of pleadings and discovery before going to trial. In criminal law, you have to prove your case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but in civil law, you have to prove your case “on the balance of probabilities.”

What is Criminal Law?

Criminal law is a set of rules that punish people who break the law. Criminal law, which is different from civil law, deals with actions that are against the law because they harm society. In most criminal cases, a prosecutor from the government’s office is the one who first takes action. The person who is charged with committing a crime is called the defendant. In criminal statutes, all crimes, from minor infractions and misdemeanours to severe felonies, are written down. If someone breaks these laws, they could be charged with a crime.

The goal of criminal law goes beyond just punishing the person who broke the law. It also tries to keep other people from breaking the law and help those who broke it get back on their feet. In criminal cases, you must prove more than in civil cases. To get a conviction, the prosecution must show the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that the evidence must be so strong that there can’t be any question about whether or not the defendant is guilty. If a defendant is found guilty, they could get fines, probation, time in jail, or even the death sentence in some places. As a result, criminal law provides robust protections for the rights of the accused.

Difference Between Civil Law and Criminal Law

Civil law aims to settle disagreements between private parties and award damages where necessary. The injured party (plaintiff) files suit, and “the balance of probabilities” is the usual burden of proof. However, criminal law tackles conduct that is harmful to society. The prosecution begins the case on behalf of the government. The purpose is not simply to rehabilitate the criminal but also to dissuade future offenders. Penalties can be as severe as fines, jail time, or even the death penalty, with “beyond a reasonable doubt” as the standard of proof. We’ve compared and contrasted criminal law with civil law below.


Civil law aims to compensate victims of wrongdoing and resolve disputes between private parties. The purpose of criminal law is to punish and deter behaviours damaging to society.

Case Initiation

The injured party (the plaintiff) brings the suit first in civil law. The prosecution (representing the government) typically brings criminal cases.


Self-representation or the retention of private counsel is common in civil litigation. A prosecutor represents the government in a criminal proceeding, and a public defender represents defendants who cannot afford private counsel.

Standard of Proof

The “preponderance of the evidence” or “balance of probabilities” is the standard of proof in civil law. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard of evidence in criminal proceedings.


The defendant in a civil case may be required to pay the plaintiff compensatory or punitive damages. Fines, probation, jail time, and the death penalty are all potential outcomes of a criminal conviction.

Jury Decision

In some places, a simple majority vote may be all that’s required under civil law. Generally speaking, a criminal case requires a unanimous verdict from the jury.

Rights of Defendants

The risk of death or imprisonment increases the importance of fundamental rights like the right to remain silent and prevent self-incrimination for criminal defendants.

Double Jeopardy

Double jeopardy is a principle in criminal law that states a defendant may not be tried twice for the same crime. In civil law, many plaintiffs or legal theories can file suits against the same party for the same event.