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  • Namita Pawa

What is the difference between criminal and civil law?

Updated: Apr 3

In England, criminal law and civil law are two distinct legal areas with a number of differences between them. We have outlined the key differences between the two.

Nature of the Proceedings

Criminal law deals with offences against society as a whole, where the state prosecutes individuals accused of committing crimes. Civil law, on the other hand, deals with disputes between individuals or entities, typically involving matters such as contracts, property, or personal injury.

Parties Involved

In criminal law, the parties involved are the prosecutor (generally the Crown Prosecution Service, other Government agencies and private prosecutors), and the defendant, who is accused of committing a crime. In civil law, the parties are typically referred to as the claimant (the party bringing the claim) and the defendant (the party against whom the claim is being brought).

Burden of Proof

In criminal law, the burden of proof is "beyond reasonable doubt." The prosecution must provide sufficient evidence to convince a jury or judge of the defendant's guilt so that they are sure. In civil law, the burden of proof is generally lower, referred to as the "balance of probabilities." The claimant must show that it is more likely than not that their claims are true.

Purpose of Proceedings

Criminal law aims to punish offenders and maintain public order. If found guilty, the defendant will be sentenced and is a risk of a variety of sentence, which include imprisonment, community work, or fines. Civil law aims to provide remedies to the injured party or resolve disputes. The focus is on compensating the claimant or resolving the matter through equitable remedies such as injunctions.


In criminal law, if the defendant is found guilty, they will be sentenced by the Judge with sentences ranges from a discharge to a term of imprisonment. In civil law, if the defendant is found liable, they may be ordered to pay damages or comply with specific actions to rectify the harm caused.

We are specialists in criminal law though if you have a civil matter, we can refer you on to another firm with the appropriate level of expertise to assist.

Legal disclaimer: Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein is accurate at the date of publication but please note that the law is ever changing and evolving. If you require advice in relation to any matter raised in this article please contact a member of the team.


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