Student Handout 3.1 - the Difference Between Civil Law and Criminal Law
When is a legal problem criminal and when is it civil? What difference does it make whether it is criminal or civil?
One way of looking at criminal law is that it is dealing with something of public interest. For example, the public has an interest in seeing that people are protected from being robbed or assaulted. These are legal problems that fall into the criminal law.
Criminal law involves punishing and rehabilitating offenders, and protecting society. Since the public has an interest in having criminal law, we give the government the power to put it in place and enforce it. The police and Crown Prosecutors are hired by the government to put the criminal …show more content…
Civil disputes usually involve some harm, loss or injury to one party or their property. Unlike criminal law; however, civil law is primarily involved with compensating victims. If a civil action is successful, the defendant will be responsible for the wrongful action. While a defendant in a criminal case may be found "guilty" or "not guilty," a defendant in a civil case is said to be "liable" or "not liable" for damages.
If you have a civil law problem, you have to take action yourself if you want to get a legal remedy. You can hire a private lawyer, and you will have to pay the expenses of pursuing the matter. For example, if you hire someone to paint your house and they do a poor job, it is a dispute between you and the painter. The police do not get involved. If you want to sue the painter for breach of contract, it is your responsibility to do so.
Sometimes criminal law is referred to as part of our public law because it applies to all Canadians and regulates relationships within our society. Similarly, civil law is sometimes referred to as private law because it regulates private