Difference Between Civil Law and Criminal Law

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023


Difference Between Civil Law and Criminal Law

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A law is a set of rules enforced and made to follow by governmental or social institutions to regulate behaviour. There are some laws which even we don’t know or just know about them generally. Laws help our constitution in regulating the civilization of the country.

Laws can be divided into four categories:

  1. Criminal Law
  2. Civil Law
  3. Statutory law
  4. Common law

Criminal Law

Criminal Law is the category of regulations that the police enforce. An offence that can pose a threat to human society comes under the 'criminal law'. Examples - Cases under criminal law include assault, murder, robbery, harassment, rape, homicide, kidnapping, blackmail, etc.

Civil Law

This is a section of the law dealing with disputes between people or institutions. Examples - Civil cases include divorce, accidents, landlord-tenant disputes, contract agreements, etc.

Statutory Law

Statutory Law is a written law that is passed by a legislative body. It needs to be signed by the concerned legislative section. Examples - Cases include traffic violations, minimum drinking age, and so on.

Common Law

Common Law is a body of law created by the judges that arise as precedents. Common law courts look into the past decisions of the court and previous cases, to modify legal principles.

India maintains a hybrid legal system which includes the above-mentioned four laws and follows the legal framework that is inherited from the colonization era and British rule. Indian Law is reasonably complex may be because India has the longest written constitution.

In this article, we will discuss in detail the differences between Civil law and Criminal.

Civil Law vs Criminal Law

There are various aspects based on which Civil Law and Criminal Law can be differentiated, for instance - based on their initiation, how they get decided, their judgment, or their penalty.

The highlight difference that can be pointed out after understanding the two of them is that Civil Law is a general law, on the other hand, Criminal law is a law imposed when a crime is committed which is against society. Civil law deals with the conduct of an individual in which the harm caused can be compensated or settled monetarily. Criminal Law deals with a crime caused by an individual considered against society as well. This difference can be taken as the major difference between the two.

Difference Between Civil Law and Criminal Law in Tabular Form

Parameters of Comparison Civil Law Criminal Law
Definition It deals with harm or injury to the fundamental rights of an individual. It deals with acts that the judiciary defines as offences or crimes.
Type It is a general law that solves disputes between two individuals or organisations. It is a law that deals with criminal offences that harm society or intent to cause harm to society.
Initiation Civil cases begin with a petition that is filed by the affected party only before the relevant court. Criminal cases begin with an FIR with the police. After that, the police carry forward the investigation further.
Process The victim can sue the offender and can settle the dispute. The offender is produced in front of the law and is punished for his/her crime.
Execution The court may provide relief to the accused by asking for compensation or monetary relief, if agreed by the victim. In criminal cases, the court can ask for a fine, imprisonment in case of guilty, or discharge in case of non-guilty.
Example Include cases related to purchasing goods, selling land, divorce cases, and so on. Cases like robbery, murder, rape, violence, harassment, and so on.

What is Civil Law?

Civil Law is a judiciary system that originated in mainland Europe and spread to other countries all around the world. It is rationalized within the framework and blueprint of Roman law. Therefore, it is also known as the Romano-Germanic legal system because it originated in Europe. Civil Law elucidates rules and regulations that deal with the conduct of an individual or an organization that can cause harm to another individual or organization. It is concerned with the personal affairs of citizens.

Characteristics of Civil Law

  • It deals with crimes committed against the welfare of society or which may cause harm to mankind.
  • It is an adaptable system as it gives room to adjust rules considering social change. 
  • It favours cooperation, predictability and order, which makes it a well-organised institution. It has provisions of settlement through compensation or monetary punishment.
  • It is a comprehensive system that is easily accessible to citizens.
  • It is a legislative system, yet it avoids excessive detailing.

Salient Features of Civil Law

  • The rights and duties are articulated clearly in Civil Law.
  • It is simple and accessible to citizens, even if it is judicial regulation. Despite being a judicial regulation, it is rather simple and easily available to the civic people.
  • Its objective is to protect the rights of the citizens by regulating its policies cautiously yet simply.
  • It is a written constitution based on civic codes cherishing pivotal rights and duties of the people. It works in favour of society and its betterment.
  • It is more prescriptive than the Common Law system. It clearly defines the codes of conduct and the rules and regulations of the law.

Some Types Of Cases In Civil Law

  • Breach of contract cases - It results from a person's inability to fulfil particular criteria of the contract. The contract may be written or oral as long as the victim has proof the contract is considered valid and admissible.
  • Tenant/landlord issues - It is the most common type of conflict. A lot of cases, where either of the party has an issue with the other party, come into light periodically.
  • Tort claims - A tort is an act other than a breach of contract, which results in injury to a person, property, or reputation.   

Where is Civil Law found?

It is a well-known reality that the basic concept, rules, and categories of 'Civil Law' were derived from Roman Law. Civil Law systems are found everywhere and cover about 65% of the world.

  • French Civil Law is exercised in France, Italy, Romania, Spain, the Benelux countries and the other former colonies of these countries.
  • German Civil Law is evident in Germany, Austria, Russia, Bosnia, Switzerland, Serbia, Greece, Croatia, Portugal and its former colonies, and eastern Asian countries.   
  • Italian Civil Law and its approach are imitated by countries including Portugal, the Netherlands, Brazil and Argentina.  
  • Chilean Civil Law is conducted in Ecuador and Colombia.
  • Many countries have Napoleonic Civil Law. For instance- Haiti, Latvia, Guatemala, Egypt, France, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, etc.
  • Portuguese Civil Law system is there in India, but it acts only in the state of Goa and Union Territories- Dadar and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu.

What is Criminal Law?

Criminal Law is a body of judiciary that deals with crime. It includes conducts that are threatening, deleterious, or endangering to the property, safety, health, and moral welfare of the civilization. The criminals need to be punished in some way; Criminal Law plays a significant role in treating criminals most appropriately. The traditional approach to Criminal Law is - A crime is an act that is morally or socially wrong. The person who is found guilty will be fined or will be sent to jail for a specific period, depending on the offender's crime.

Characteristics of Criminal Law

  • A crime is an act to harm or an attempt to harm. Even failure to harm is considered a crime; one can be punished for bad thoughts as well. 
  • Criminal punishment is regulated for individuals who knowingly, intentionally, negligently, or carelessly harm other individuals.
  • Harm must be caused to consider a criminal offence and to give punishment to the accused. The court must know about the nature of the crime to give punishment.
  • The criminal act and the criminal intent should be clearly stated to make a decision and the type of punishment.
  • The criminal act and the criminal intent must relate to each other then only it shall be considered a valid case or else, it may be considered as a lack of evidence.

Types of Crimes

  • Crimes against Public morals
  • Crimes against Public Order
  • Crimes against a Person - Homicide
  • Crimes against a Person - Sexual offence
  • Crime against Property 
  • Crime against Habitation
  • Crime against Judicial management

Crimes can be divided into different categories also:

  • Property Crimes - They involve properties.
  • Inchoate Crimes – This includes criminal acts that were not able to get executed completely or only assisted in another's crime.
  • Personal Crimes - They result in causing harm or injury to the other person.
  • Financial Crimes - They are money-related crimes including fraud, blackmailing, ransom, etc.

Objectives of Criminal Law

There are five primary objectives behind the enforcement of criminal laws: Retribution, Incapacitation, Deterrence, Rehabilitation, and Restoration.

  1. Retribution - It is a must that criminals should pay for what they have done. They ought to get executed to maintain balance and take away the improper advantage that the criminals enjoy.
  2. Deterrence - Deterrence means to discourage an act by giving a punishment. For example- By imposing a penalty on those who commit a crime, others are discouraged from taking such steps.
  3. Rehabilitation - Rehabilitation's motive is to modify and transform an individual (criminal) into a better individual in society. For example - Sending delinquents to detention centres or rehabilitation centres for proper counselling.
  4. Incapacitation - This punishment is exercised to keep criminals away from society to keep the citizens safe. The most common punishment is sending criminals to prison. Death penalty or life-long imprisonments serve the same purpose.
  5. Restoration - Restoration is victim-oriented. The loss or injury inflicted upon the victim by the offender needs to be repaired. It is closely related to the idea of civil law.

Main Differences Between Civil Law and Criminal Law In Points

  • Civil Law primarily protects the victim, whereas Criminal Law aims to protect society as well. Civil law makes sure that the victim gets justice and gets whatever loss he/she has suffered. Criminal Law, on the other hand, aims to eliminate crime from society.
  • Civil law and Criminal Law both have different legal procedures and processes. In Civil cases, a petition is put forward in a specific court. In Criminal cases, an FIR is registered at the police station.
  • Criminal cases require a high standard of proof; while in terms of civil cases, a lower standard of evidence can do the job.
  • Civil Law solves disputes between two people. Criminal Law deals with the crimes committed against society.
  • Civil Law protects the fundamental rights of a civilian, whereas Criminal Law's main motive is to punish the offender to safeguard society from more harm.
  • Criminal cases begin with lodging an FIR (First Information Report); on the other hand, civil cases start with a petition filed before the particular court.
  • In the case of a Criminal Case, the accused is prosecuted in court, and then the judge decides after proper investigation and evidence whether the accused is a criminal or not. In a Civil Case, the victim can sue the offender. A special court will hear the case and try to settle disputes between the two.


The early civilisations did not find the need to differentiate between Civil Law and Criminal Law. Today people and the government have realised that the law is essential because it acts as a blueprint of what is acceptable in society and what is prohibited. Law has functioned as a catalyst in transforming civilisation and in bringing about positive change by following the law and order.

Criminal Law and Civil Law are two different bodies of law that work on distinct rules and regulations. They both play a consequential role in shaping our society. Civil Law deals with the violation of the fundamental rights of citizens and, Criminal Law deals with criminal offences that may harm society. No matter what the provisions and regulations are, they both are extremely important for the betterment of humanity.


  • https://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/30388_1.pdf



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"Difference Between Civil Law and Criminal Law." Diffzy.com, 2024. Sun. 14 Apr. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-civil-law-and-criminal-law-1264>.

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