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  • Fatimah Zahrah

The difference between Civil Law and Criminal Law

There are many elements of civil and criminal law that separates the two types of offences. Civil law is defined by an offence that is charged against an organisation or an individual and the two parties represent their own interests. The parties involved in civil law are the plaintiff and the respondent while in criminal law the parties are referred to as the prosecution and the accused or the defendant. Criminal law is defined by an offence that affects the public therefore a person who commits a crime under criminal law commits a crime against the state. The public prosecutor will represent the state. Civil law and criminal law cases can be distinguished by the names of the cases. Civil cases can be between an individual and another individual, individual and an organisation or an organisation against another organisation. For instance a landmark case in the law of tort Caparo Industries plc v Dickman. This case established the principles of duty of care in tort law. A well-know civil law case, specifically family law that took place in Malaysia is M.Indira Gandhi v Pengarah Jabatan Agama Islam Perak and others. Although this case was against a government institution, a family law case is categorised under civil law.

The most notable difference between civil law offences and criminal law offences is the burden of proof of the crime. In civil law, the plaintiff must prove on a balance of probabilities of the evidence brought forward by the plaintiff in order to satisfy the elements of the crime. In criminal law the prosecution bears a higher burden which is to prove the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt which means that the standard of proof is much higher for criminal cases because the punishment given in criminal law is much more severe than civil law. A person who commits an offence under criminal law could be charged with going to prison or in some countries, including Malaysia, could suffer the death-penalty. This kind of punishment is much more severe than the types of punishment that a person might have to face in the civil court. Beyond reasonable doubt means that the evidence brought forward by the prosecution must be enough to remove any reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury that the defendant had committed the crime.

There are a variety of offences that distinguish civil law and criminal law. Civil law comprises different types of offences which include tort law, family law, land law and contract law. The similarity between these types of cases is that it is a dispute between one person or organisation against another. In criminal law the types of offences are much more grievous and usually include some form of harm against another human being. This type of offences can include robbery, rape or murder. The purpose of criminal law is to deter others from committing similar offences, to punish those who have committed an offence against another person and to protect the public against dangerous people. When a person loses a dispute against another person or organisation in the civil court, the person is awarded compensation in the form of punitive damages or compensation for the harm or loss that has been incurred. A party charged with an offense under civil law can be liable or not liable for the crime, while criminal law does not use the same terminology instead a person is guilty or not guilty of an offense under criminal law.

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