Differences Between Criminal Law and Civil Law: Law is a body of rules which regulates the activities of citizens in a given state. It regulaates the relationship between the state and the citizens of the state; as well as between citizens of the state.
The classification of law into various classes or compartments seem to be a herculean task as the general purpose of law is to regulate human behavior. Various classes of law exist. The distinction between them may not be that broad, but there sure exist these distinctions. Two of such classes of laws are Criminal Law and Civil Law.
Criminal Law on the one hand is that branch or class of law which deals with the relationship between the state and her citizens. It prescribes an acceptable norm or way of life for all citizens of the state, of which, a violation of such laws will be seen as an offence against the State.
Criminal law is public in nature. This is because it involves the government of a state. The state takes charge of effecting the rights of any individual alleged to have been breached by another. In fact, criminal law regulates relationship between the state and the citizens, and prescribes the way of life of a citizen within the state.
On the other hand, civil law is that branch of law that regulates the activities between citizens of a state. The state is usually not involved in the administration of civil law. Civil law is private law. It is between private citizens. It regulates the activities between individuals residing in a state.
An individual whose rights have been breached seeks the enforcement of such rights himself without the intervention of the state.
Having these in mind, there are key or salient points of distinction between criminal and civil law. The differences exist under several sub topic.
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Differences Between Criminal Law AND Civil Law
1. Initiation of Proceedings: A major distinction between criminal law and civil law can be seen in the mode of initiating Proceedings. In criminal law, proceedings are usually initiated by way of a charge, complaint or filing of an information at the court. In civil law, proceedings are initiated either by way of a writ of summons, originating motions, originating application or petition.
These different means of initiating process at the court under both laws distinguishes criminal law from civil law.
2. Parties to the Proceedings: In criminal law, the state is always a party to the proceedings and it is the the state that initiates the Proceedings. The state may delegate this power of initiating proceedings to any of its agencies. Also, the state is designated as the complainant.
The reason for the state being a party to the criminal proceedings is because all offences are presumed to be done against the state and not the individual. The social contract theory which postulates that citizens reliquish some of their rights to the state (government) for protection is very visible here. It flows therefore that, since those rights are now vested on the state, where a person has being offended, it is seen as an offence against the state, and it is only the state that can initiate proceedings to remedy that wrong.
On the other hand,the parties in a civil proceedings are the individual who claim his rights has being brenched and the alleged doer of the wrong. It is between two or more private individuals without the involvement of the state. The designation for the parties are the plaintiff or claimant and the defendant.
3. Burden of Proof: Burden of proof in any proceedings refers to the party that has the responsibility or onus of presenting evidence in surpot of his case. The burden of proof usually rests on the party whose case will fail if no evidence is adduced on both sides.
The burden of proving a case in criminal law is different from the burden of proof in a civil proceeding. In criminal proceeding, the burden of proof always rest on the prosecution (state).
It is therefore the task of the prosecution to prove that the said offence was committed by the defendant ( accused) in order to establish the accused’s (defendant) guilt. It is only in peculiar circumstances that the burden of proof shifts to the defendant (accused). It is not the duty of the defendant to prove his innocence but that of the prosecution to prove his guilt.
However, in civil proceedings, the burden of proof rests on the party that alleges. Any party that alleges the existence of any fact would be liable to prove the existence of those facts, else his evidence will fail.
4. Standard of proof: The standard of proof simply refers to the weight of evidence. It is the weight the court attaches to a piece of evidence which aids it to determine a case one way or the other. In criminal law, the standard of proof is usually a proof beyond reasonable doubt. When the prosecution does not discharge the burden of proof to this standard and there exists any doubt in the mind of the court, the accused is discharged. Such doubt is resolved in favor of the accused. Failure to prove beyond reasonable doubt will amount to an acquittal.
However, in a civil proceeding, the standard of proof is usually on a balance of probabilities. The court places the evidence adduced by parties on an imaginary scale and weighs them. Any party whose evidence is more probable wins the case. Thus, in civil proceedings, the standard of proof need not be beyond reasonable doubt.
5. Final Determination of Proceedings: In a criminal matter, the final determination of the case either ends in a conviction of the accused (defendant) if found guilty, or a discharge and acquittal if found innocent.
Where the burden of proof and standard of proof is not properly discharged by the prosecution, the court discharges and acquits the accused (defendant) thereby setting him free. If on the other hand, the burden and standard of proof have been adequately discharged, the accused (defendant) will be convicted and sentenced accordingly.
In a civil proceeding however, the final determination of the cae ends in an award of damages or a dismissal of the suit. Where the court finds that there is merit in the case of the plaintiff (claimant), an award of damages is usually given. If on the other hand, the court does not find merit in the case, the case is either struck out or dismissed.
6. Purpose of Final Determination of the Case: The purpose of the determination of a criminal as is to give punishment to the convicted. Where a person has been found guilty of a crime, he is usually punished according to the prescribed punishment for the offence.
Punishment ranges from fines, imprisonment, community service and even capital punishment. The purpose of punishment is to serve as deterrent to other persons; and also as a means of retribution against the convict.
On the other hand, the purpose of the final determination of a civil proceeding is to restitute the plaintiff or claimant. The final determination is to ensure that the plaintiff is placed in the position he was prior to the commission of the wrong against him.
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From the foregoing, it can be deduced that, despite the fact that both criminal law and civil law exist in same state, their methods or mode of administration differ. It is this disparity in their mode of administration and enforcement that differentiates criminal law from civil law.
Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka, ACMC, is a lawyer and a certified mediator/conciliator in Nigeria. He is also a developer with knowledge in various programming languages. Samuel is determined to leverage his skills in technology, SEO, and legal practice to revolutionize the legal profession worldwide by creating web and mobile applications that simplify legal research. Sam is also passionate about educating and providing valuable information to people.