Common Law and Civil Law Summary

Criminal law is the body of law that relates to crime. It might be defined as the body of rules that defines conduct that is prohibited by the state because it is held to threaten, harm or otherwise endanger the safety and welfare of the public, and that sets out the punishment to be imposed on those who breach these laws. [1] The criminal law serves several purposes and benefits society by maintaining order, resolving disputes, protecting individuals and property, providing for smooth functioning of society and safeguarding civil liberties.[2]

Civil law seeks to resolve non-criminal disputes such as disagreements over the meaning of contracts, property ownership, divorce, child custody, and damages for personal and property damage. A civil court will attempts to remedy the dispute between individuals by determining their legal rights, awarding money damages to the injured party, or directing one party to perform or refrain from performing a specific act. The function of civil law is to provide a legal remedy to solve problems.[3]

In civil law, a case commences when a complaint is filed by a party, which may be an individual, an organization, a company or a corporation, against another party. The party complaining is called the plaintiff and the party responding is called the defendant and the process is called litigation. In contrast, in criminal law, the case is filed by the government, usually referred to as the State and represented by a prosecutor, against a defendant. [4]

In punishment, in case of criminal law a person found guilty is punished by incarceration in a prison, a fine, or in some occasion’s death penalty. Defendant can be found guilty or not. Whereas, in case of civil law the losing party has to reimburse the plaintiff, the amount of loss which is determined by the judge and is called punitive damage. Either party (plaintiff or defendant) can be found at fault. A criminal litigation is more serious than civil litigation in that criminal defendants have more rights and protections than a civil defendant.[4] In case of criminal law, the burden of proof lies with the government in order to prove that the defendant is guilty. Whereas, in case of civil law the burden of proof first lies with the plaintiff and then with the defendant to refute the evidence provided by the plaintiffs.

In case of civil litigation if the judge or jury believes that there is more than 50% of the evidence favouring the plaintiffs, then plaintiffs win. In case of criminal law, defendant is not declared guilty unless there are “beyond a reasonable doubt” or approximately more than 99% proofs against him [4] A defendant in a criminal case is entitled to an attorney, and if he or she can’t afford one, the state must provide an attorney. A defendant in a civil case is not given an attorney and must pay for one, or else defend him or herself.[5] Besides that, only the defendant may appeal in a criminal case whereas in a civil case, either party may appeal.