The Difference Between Criminal Law & Civil Law


Posted by heritagelawoffices on May 15, 2020 in Blog, Civil Litigation

Generally, the justice system breaks down into two major categories: criminal law and civil law. Between TV judges and action movies, some members of the general public may have a skewed perception of how these two forms of law function. Read on for Heritage Law’s guide to the definitive differences between the criminal and civil branches of the legal structure.

What is criminal law?

A crime is typically defined as an offense committed against society as whole. The severity of the crime is outlined by Canada’s Criminal Code and other federal laws. Law enforcement arrests perpetrators of criminal law, takes them into custody and then processes them for prosecution by the Crown in either provincial or superior court.

What is civil law?

Civil law is made up of suits and actions– brought on by private parties suing one another over legal disagreements, personal injury or property damage. Whether individuals or corporations, the plaintiff is the suing party and the defendant is the party being sued. Often settled by lawyers before it comes to trial, civil suits and actions will be decided by the courts if necessary.

What’s different between civil trials & criminal trials?

In civil trials, the burden is on the plaintiff to present proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is liable (legally responsible) for the issue. The trial is decided by a judge or, in some cases, a judge and a jury– parties often hire legal representation to make or defend their cases. If the defendant has not broken civil law, the case will be dismissed. If the defendant is indeed liable, they may have to pay damages to the plaintiff, lose rights to the plaintiff or even face a court order to stop their actions.

While criminal trials proceed similarly to their civil counterparts, the outcomes are often more serious. The trial is decided by a judge or a judge and jury with the public represented by a Crown Prosecutor– the defendant may hire representation or they may be provided legal aid. If convicted, the accused may face fines, restitution, probation, community service and even imprisonment.

As you can see, Canada’s system of justice is a complex matter– our crash course might not be enough. If you have any legal issues or concerns, contact the experienced team at Heritage Law today!