The Key Differences Between Criminal And Civil Law

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The Key Differences Between Criminal And Civil Law

Are you confused about the differences between criminal and civil law? Whether you need to know about criminal law or civil law right now, or you just want to gain an understanding for the future, we’ve got you covered. After all, you may need to know the basics someday.

Keep reading to learn more about criminal law, civil law, and the key differences between the two. We’ve also included examples of criminal offences and civil matters to help clear things up for you.


What is Criminal Law?

In the UK, criminal laws are put in place by Parliament to ensure that the whole of society is protected. Criminal laws are in place to prevent breaches of conduct that can negatively affect society in general.

Breaking criminal laws will result in you facing criminal prosecution, which involves a criminal proceeding normally being prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service on behalf of the state , whether it be in the Crown Court or the Magistrates’ Court.

If you are convicted for breaking a criminal law, you could face a prison sentence a community order or fine.  The length and type of the sentence typically depends on the severity of the crime, your criminal record, your plea, and your age. A community order could involve completing unpaid work such as removing graffiti - also known as community payback.

In order to be found guilty by the courts, the standard of proof must be ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ - so the jury or magistrates should consider this before making a decision.


Examples of Criminal Offences:

There are many criminal laws in the UK that can cover a wide range of bases - from sexual assault to arson. Here are just a few examples of criminal offences in the UK:


What is Civil Law?

Civil law focuses on a system of law (rules and regulations) concerned with with private relations between members of society. It includes matters against individuals, companies and can include matters against the state.

Unlike with criminal law, losing a civil law case  won’t result in you being sent to prison. However, it can result in you paying compensation, or forfeiting certain rights or making wright a wrong.

Whilst the  judge's decision on civil law cases won’t result in you going to prison it can affect your family, your home, and your finances. It is possible to deal with civil law cases outside the courtroom - for example, through a third-party mediator.

When proving a civil case, it must be 'on the balance of probabilities' which is is a lower standard of proof as required for a criminal matter.


Examples of Civil Matters:

You may come across areas that civil law covers on a regular basis. For example:

  • Breach of contract
  • Negligence
  • Family law (divorce, child arrangements)
  • Unfair dismissal or discrimination at work
  • Personal injury


Criminal Law and Civil Law - The Key Differences

There are many differences between criminal law and civil law. Criminal law is designed to punish the offender - aiming for deterrence, rehabilitation and retribution. Criminal law is designed to prevent offenders from carrying out the offence again, aiming for a law-abiding society.

Civil law, on the other hand, aims to correct unfair situations - often by compensating the victim. The main aim is to leave the victim back in a situation that they were in before they were wronged.

Another key difference between criminal law and civil law is the place in which the cases are seen. Criminal court cases either take place in Crown Court, Magistrates’ Court, or the Youth Court. Civil cases, however, usually take place in County Court or the High Court, depending on the case itself.

You can also have different tribunals - for example, Employment Tribunals. Criminal cases are brought by the government via The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), whereas civil cases are brought by individuals or organisations.

The verdict or decision process also differs between criminal cases and civil cases. In criminal cases, you are found guilty or not guilty. A guilty verdict means that you’ll likely experience rehabilitation penalties, community orders, fines, or prison depending on a variety of factors (e.g severity of the case, plea, age).

The result of civil cases, on the other hand, will either result in you being found liable, partly liable, or not liable. Justice is still the aim of civil cases, like with criminal cases. However, justice is achieved through a different process. Often, the court will award money in the form of damages or compensation, that is payable by the opposing party.

The appealing process also differs with criminal cases and civil cases - only the defendant can appeal criminal cases (save in some circumstances)  but both parties can appeal in civil cases. In both cases, you’ll have the opportunity to liaise with a lawyer/ solicitor to advise you of your options.


How We Can Help You

At Bell Lamb & Joynson, we have over 200 years of experience with family law, helping families in and around the Merseyside area. We can offer you the advice, support, and guidance you need with civil cases and family law.

We can also provide our expert services regarding criminal law. If you or somebody you know is under investigation, is being prosecuted, or has been arrested for a criminal offence, we are here to help.

Our criminal solicitors are available 24 hours a day, all year round - and regularly travel across the country to provide assistance at the police station or in the courts. Contact our qualified and experienced solicitors today using our online  form - to arrange a free and confidential chat to discuss your circumstances.

If you want to know more about Bell Lamb & Joynson Solicitors, contact us today. You can either use our convenient online enquiry form or our webchat.

Mike Leeman

Mike is the firms Managing Partner. Prior to that he was the head of the criminal department and has over 25 years experience as Specialist Criminal and Motoring Solicitor.  Mike attended Calday Grange Grammar school on the Wirral and then studied at Sheffield Hallam University followed by the University of Sheffield. Over the years, he has been involved in a number of high profile criminal cases that have had national coverage. He has been the firms managing Partner since 2019.