Criminal Law vs. Civil Law

Criminal Law vs. Civil Law: What You Should Know.

In the UK, civil law and criminal law are two separate entities that are often mistaken as one and the same. This misconception often leads people to expect all the wrong things during litigations. These two broad separate areas of the law each has their set of rules and consequences that all people should be aware of. You can use this knowledge in the future. But if you are just curious about their differences, then may this article be a helpful guide for you. 

Haymans Solicitors has extensive experience in both criminal and civil law. With our many years in the field, we have picked up on the obvious and more subtle nuances between the two. 

In a nutshell, criminal law encompasses cases like burglary, assault, battery, and cases of murder. On the other hand, civil law covers cases involving negligence, malpractice, and many others. This can give you an idea of which types of cases criminal and civil lawyers handle. However, you might need a little more information than that. So, here we have a deeper look into criminal and civil law. 

A Quick Look at Civil Law 

Civil law is largely concerned with the rights and properties of individuals or organisations. Here in the UK, individual or organisational rights may not be protected under criminal law. In such cases, they are settled through the courts of civil law. 

Examples of civil law cases include family disputes. Divorce, dissolution of civil partnerships, child custody disputes, other disputes relating to children and childcare arrangements all fall under family disputes. Civil law also touches on personal injury cases like road traffic accidents, medical and clinical negligence, workplace slips, trips, falls, among other incidents. 

Other cases that are covered by civil law include breach of contract cases where money is unpaid or some terms of the contract were not honoured by the other party. Employment law is also covered by civil law. Cases like workplace discrimination or harassment, for instance, are handled by civil law practitioners. 

Civil law aims to establish whether the defendant, referring to the person or organisation in question, had a duty of care towards the claimant. An example would be the relationship of an employer to an employee where the former has the responsibility to care for the latter at work. If an employee is injured at work, personal injury solicitors take up the case to a civil court rather than a criminal court. 

A Quick Look at Criminal Law 

Criminal law, on the other hand, deals with offences and breaches that negatively impact society as a whole. The rules that govern this area of the law is outlined in the Acts of Parliament, which details all the acceptable and unacceptable conducts in the UK. 

The main aim of this area of law is to maintain balance within society. This is highly rooted in moral law wherein harm (may it be physical, emotional, financial, etc.) inflicted on other people are considered grievous crimes. 

A person who is suspected of breaching the rules of criminal law is subject to criminal prosecution by the state. Criminal proceedings are conducted in the name of the Crown and are thus brought by the Crown Prosecution Service to the Magistrate’s Court or the Crown Court. Parties who have a specific interest in cases like the RSPCA/Royal Mail also pursue private criminal prosecution. 

Offences that breach criminal law includes criminal damage as robberies or theft, sexual assault, murder, fraud, money laundering, drug dealing, and many others. 

Convicted offenders are given the penalty laid out in the relevant legislation and sentencing guidelines. Penalties are often in the form of fines, prison sentences, or community service. In the UK, a person must be guilty beyond reasonable doubt to be found guilty of a criminal offence. They, therefore, remain innocent unless proven otherwise. 

What Are the Key Differences Between the Two? 

From the brief definitions that we have given above, you may have picked up on a few differences between criminal and civil law. But we want to take it a bit further and digest the topic even more. Here, we list down the specific differences between the two areas of law. 

Burden of Proof

Civil law follows the evidentiary standard that states, “preponderance of evidence.” Under this standard, the burden of proof lies on the plaintiff. The burden of proof is met only when the plaintiff convinces the fact finder that there is at least a 50% chance that the claim is true. 

Criminal law, on the other end, follows another type of evidentiary standard. The standard is the infamous “beyond a reasonable doubt” where the burden of proof falls on the state or government. This also implies that the prosecution must convince the jury that there is nothing else that can disprove the facts and pieces of evidence that are presented. Once the defendant’s guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt, then a guilty verdict will be rendered. 

Unlike civil law, the standard of proof for criminal law cases are much higher. An explanation for this is that the punishment is equally heavier and thus, the judge and jury should come to the absolute certainty regarding the defendant’s guilt or innocence. 

Nature of Punishment

The “punishment” in a civil litigation typically comes in the form of compensation for injuries or damages incurred by the plaintiff. Disposition of property and other disputes may also apply depending on the subject of the case. 

In criminal cases, crimes are divided into two broad categories namely, felonies and misdemeanours. The punishment varies for each case and usually comes in the form of incarceration and/or fines. In cases involving grievous crimes, death penalties can even apply. But in the UK, the capital punishment was completely abolished in 1998. 


Civil law ultimately intends to help the aggrieved party receive a compensation or compromise. For instance, when a worker badly suffered from injuries due to improper implementation of safety standards in the workplace, he or she is entitled to a settlement from the employer or the organisation. 

In contrast, criminal law intends to bring the aggrieved party to justice by implicating or convicting the people or persons responsible. Through criminal law, the apprehension, charging, and trial of suspected persons are thoroughly regulated. 

The criminal law is one of the many things that organised societies use to protect individual human rights. It would be hard to determine where we would be today as a society without the establishment of criminal law, or any area of law for that matter. 

Legal Approach

The way that a lawyer approaches a case can also vary. In every case, lawyers have the responsibility to work out some kind of deal. For civil suits, negotiating and resolving deals are much more flexible. But you do not have as much leeway when dealing with a criminal case. Negotiations in a criminal case require litigators to think beyond.

They have to consider things like potential incarceration, the rights of an individual after a plea agreement, and many others. All these other factors can make negotiating complicated. In fact, they also have to adjust their approach based on the judge that handles the case. This is because judges also play a key role – they can reject agreements for a variety of reasons which depends from case to case. 

In criminal law, lawyers are often tied to the mercy of the court, while civil settlements have more freedom in the sense that outside judicial review can give them more room to adjust. For the latter, there are more chances of finding an acceptable solution for all the parties involved. The same could not be said for criminal cases, however. 

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations pertains to the period of time allowed for bringing certain kinds of legal actions to the court. The two areas of law also differ in this regard. Prosecutors or plaintiffs have a period of limitation after an incident to press charges or bring a claim against a defendant. The statute of limitation set for civil lawsuits is intended to prevent prosecutors from making unreasonable claims or demands. 

Here’s an example. If a worker accused an employee of an offence that happened more than 20 years ago, the employee might not have enough evidence to make a strong case. The lack of evidence does not only mean the plaintiff risks losing the case, but it also means lesser compensation for the said offences. However, there are exemptions like cases involving asbestos and so on. 

Guidelines for the statute of limitations vary according to the region. But for heinous crimes like murder, major theft, sexual assault, homicide, and kidnapping, the statute of limitations does not apply. 

There are many explanations as to why some cases involving murder, theft, sexual assault, among others are free from any statute of limitations. Although some of them may be controversial, one reason is that a person or group of people that has committed such acts cannot be allowed to remain at large no matter how long ago it was committed. But then again, some regions do have a statute of limitations for some criminal cases, rendering the suspects free from any type of punishment. 


The appellant for civil lawsuits may either be the employee or the employer or anyone else involved. Either party can file a case against the other. While in criminal cases, the defendant is the only one who can appeal. 

Got more questions? Consult with Haymans Solicitors Today 

Haymans Solicitors is a team of legal advisors based in the UK. Our goal is to deliver straightforward and affordable personal legal advice for personal or business issues. 

How We Can Help

Our team is backed with over 15 years of experience in the field. From simple misdemeanour cases to complex class-action litigations, we have been steadfast in giving consistent and accurate services to our clients. We cover cases in both civil and criminal law. Our expertise lies in handling cases involving criminal damage, fraud, family disputes, personal injury, company disputes, Proceeds of Crime Act Cases (POCA), and many others. 

Data Gathering

It is not uncommon for emotions to take precedence during times of stress, as when legal issues arise. It is perfectly normal to feel that way. We are just humans, after all. That is why when the going gets tough, we will stand by you and make sure you stay on track.

This means that you can leave all the paperwork to us. We are adept at gathering data to support your case. We collaborate closely with you to ensure that all the facts presented in the case are accurate and cannot be refuted. Together, we will work towards creating solutions to your specific problems. 

Case Building

Our main focus is to ensure that you are protected. With the intent to protect your rights and bring you justice, we will take every step to build a strong case. Aside from gathering all the facts, we will come up with a strategy to make sure that your goals are met. Throughout the process, we take it upon ourselves to work with dignity and integrity at all times. Such is the practice that we always follow here at Haymans Solicitors. 

Committed to Accuracy and Excellence 

We are committed not only to providing you with the best legal services possible. Above all, we wish to conduct every stage with accuracy and excellence in mind. Our years in the industry has honed a deep sense of responsibility for each of our clients. We operate only in a professional manner – one that puts the law above everything else. 

Committed to Serving You 

You need a legal advisor who is committed to serve you. We, at Haymans Solicitors, have the knowledge, experience, and connections to make sure that your case stands a chance in the civil or criminal court. Whatever grievances you have, it is important to be heard and receive the compensation or justice that you deserve. 

For quality legal assistance in civil or criminal law, reach out to Haymans Solicitors today. 

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