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Published: Fri, 02 Feb 2018

Differences between Civil law and Criminal law

Differences between Civil law and Criminal law

Civil Law

Criminal Law

Standard of Proof

Balance of probability (51%)

Beyond reasonable doubt (99%) [1] 



County Court

High Court

Supreme court

Crown Court

Court of Appeal


Court of Appeal

Criminal Division

Crown court

Queen’s Bench

Supreme court


Private individuals

Donoghue v Stevenson

Government example, R v Attorney General [2] 






Community service



May appeal to the highest courts

May appeal to the highest courts


Claimant may receive nothing if defendant can conceal assets. [3] 

Defendant can plead not guilty and plead for insanity which must be proven.

Rights of defendants

The defendant must be available

Cooperative for testimony as a witness in the trial.

The suspect or defendant has the right to remain silent during questioning by police and prosecuting solicitors.

Obtaining information

In civil law, a solicitor may request documents or a visit inside a building

Police generally must first obtain a search warrant.

Parties Name



Private individual




The state


Breach of contract [4] 

Breach of trust of tort

Liability in tort

Infringements of rights recognised by civil law


Killing of another


Damage to property


To resolve disputes between individuals

Protect society


Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co (1893) [5] 

R v Smith [6] 

Involvement in Enforcing the Law

Civil Courts


Crown Prosecution Service

Criminal Courts




Case names

Adler v George [7] 

R v Lambert

Differences between Criminal Law and Civil Law

Criminal law deals with offences which are regarded in the public as wrong against the state and are therefore punished by the state if found guilty of the offence. It seeks to suppress anti-social behaviours such as the unlawful killing of another, offences against the person, theft and damage to property [8] . Criminal law recognises a variety of forms of punishment including imprisonment, fines and community sentences. In criminal law, there are four main reasons why the state punishes individuals who have committed an offence. First is the need to protect the public from dangerous crimes, secondly, there is the need to deter the defendant and other potential defendants from committing crimes. Thirdly, there is the need to rehabilitate defendants to seek to ensure that they do not commit crimes in the future. Finally, when society wishes to mark certain types of conduct as wrongful and reassert the accepted social order by punishing the wrongdoer.

Civil law [9] deals with disputes with private individuals, for example Donoghue v Stevenson [10] . It relates to matters other than criminal law such as contract and tort. Civil law allows a person who has been wronged by another in certain ways to bring an action for the appropriate remedy. There are currently about 300 hundred county courts involved with civil work. In civil law, the parties involved are the claimant and the defendant.

One of the most important distinctions between civil and criminal law is the standard of proof. In civil law, the balance of probability is 51% and it lies in the hand of the plaintiff to prove to the court in order to succeed in a civil action. [11] Unlike criminal law, the prosecution must prove the case against the defendant beyond reasonable doubt, which is 99%. [12] Even though the natures of civil and criminal are the same, the wrongs in both are different. Civil wrongs would be breach of contract, breach of tort whilst criminal wrongs are unlawful killing of another, offences against a person, theft and damage to property. The defendant may pay damages, and injunction if found guilty of offence in a civil case. In a criminal case, if found guilty defendant may receive prison sentence, fine or community service. Punishing the offender in is paramount in a criminal case where as in civil law compensating the victim is rather paramount.

European court of Human rights [13] 

The European court of Human rights [14] seeks to bring justice of individuals whose rights have been breached by any country who has signed up to the convention. The court hears cases ranging from discrimination to the mistreatment of prisoners and from human rights abuses to improper trial conduct. [15] It sits in Strasbourg [16] and enforces states’ obligations under the European Convention on Human rights. The court is divided into four sections. The entire court elects a President and four section Presidents, two of whom also serve as vice presidents of the court. Each section selects a chamber, which consists of the Section President and a rotating selection of six other justices. The court also maintains a 17- member Grand Chamber. Selection of judges alternates between the groups every nine months. Cases are referred to the court [17] if the commission is of the opinion that the facts support a possible breach of the convention.

Analyse and evaluate the work of barristers, solicitors and judges.

Below, I will be analysing and evaluating the work of barristers, solicitors and judges. Going into depths about the developments of their education, training and the future development structure of the profession.

Solicitors [18] 

Solicitor’s main duty is convenyancing, handling legal matters outside of court, providing legal advice to clients and so forth. [19] They are governed by the law society. Regulating their training, discipline and standards of professional conduct [20] . There around 98,000 solicitors of which 75,000 work in a solicitor’s office. [21] Almost all solicitors begin with a law degree, non law degree students have to take a one year course leading to the CPE (Common Professional Examination [22] .Then a one year course in Legal practice course and a 5 year- year contract. In 2005, women were accounted for 41.6 percent of solicitors with practising certificates, representing a growth of 110 percent since 1995 [23] . As much as men progress to partnerships women do not progress to partnerships as men. Solicitors in private practice in 2005, about 44 cent of men were partners but only 19.8 percent of women were.

Barristers [24] 

A barrister is a specialized type of legal lawyer whose main job is advocacy. They are self employed and under the bar rules, cannot form partnerships, but they usually share chambers with other barristers. [25] To become a barrister, you need either a qualifying Law Degree, or a degree in any subjects and the CPE one year course. Students must then join one of the four Inns of Court. These are inner Temple, Middle Temple, Gray’s Inn, and Lincoln’s Inn. After your academic qualifications, you need to take and pass the one year BVC (bar vocational course). Each year, approximately 2,000 people take the Bar vocational Course, with each paying about £12,000 pounds for the course on its own. Barristers who wish to practice after passing their bar finals must do a one year apprenticeship called pupillage.


Judges hold a key position within the constitution. At the head of the judiciary is the president of the Courts of England and Wales. The senior judges are the justices of the Supreme Court. Up next, sitting at the court of appeal, are 38 judges. [26] Judges are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister or by the Lord Chancellor. [27] The qualification to become a judge is that you must have qualified as a barrister or a solicitor. Each type of judge has different qualifications. [28] The majority of most judges are white, male, upper class and elderly. As a result, judges are felt to be unrepresentative of the society the serve. It is argued that our judiciary have outdated and old fashioned views towards women. 

Magistrates and Juries [29] 


Juries are found in the courts. It consists of 12 people who represent the public. [30] They hear a case and then decide a verdict, based on fact, not law. The number of times an individual will serve jury duty depends on the selection process by the county and state is done randomly from the electoral register. [31] . The role of juries in the English legal system is paramount. They are required in most criminal cases and also in some civil cases. In criminal cases, the use of juries in the crown court is to decide a verdict of guilty or not guilty. They do this by hearing the case represented by the prosecution and the defendant. In a civil case [32] , they first decide if the claimant has proven their case effectively, and if they decide the claimant has won their case, they decide the amount of damages or compensation that should be paid by the defendant.A jury verdict can be carried on a unanimous decision or on a majority decision as long as it is 11:1 or 10:2 and no less, a judge will not accept 9:3 decision, and the jury will be made to go back and deliberate more until they reach a majority verdict. [33] 

Magistrates [34] 

Magistrates administer the law in the courts to a certain extent of power [35] . There are two types of magistrate in England and Wales, lay justices of the peace [36] and district judges [37] . The lay justices [38] sit voluntarily on local benches hearing minor matters [39] . On the other hand, the district judges have the authority to sit in a magistrate’s court. They operate in both criminal and civil cases, but play a much bigger role in criminal trials. In a criminal case, magistrates hear cases and decide the sentence of the defendant if found guilty or they plead guilty and also when they plead not guilty. They are able to change the mode of trial hearings, and have the power to pas summary offenders to higher courts for sentencing. In civil cases, magistrates deal with cases such as family matters, where they may decide custodial of a child after a divorce. Magistrates [40] also deals with areas of civil debts issues such as unpaid council tax, and dealing with people who fail to pay fines.

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