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The two main branches of law in the United Kingdom are criminal and civil law. Many people are unclear about what defines criminal law and how it differs from civil law. Criminal cases are dealt with differently than civil cases and involve different types of punishments. Here is a rundown of the significant differences between civil and criminal law. 

Civil Law

Civil law deals mostly with cases between individuals. These cases often involve a person committing an offence that is harmful to another person or an organisation. These cases can also include an offence that is harmful to a person’s rights or property. 

The punishments for civil offences generally involve compensation rather than jail time. Examples of civil cases would include personal injury, employment tribunals, breaches of contract, or claims alleging negligence. 

The standard of proof in civil cases is not as high as in criminal cases. For the most part, the standard of proof is “the balance of probabilities,” which means it is more likely than unlikely that the person committed the offence. However, some cases require a higher standard of proof, similar to criminal cases. 

Criminal Law

Contrastly, criminal law deals with offences that affect society. When a person breaks a criminal law, they are prosecuted by the state. The Crown Protection Service (CPS) brings the charges and the cases are heard in either the Crown Court or Magistrates’ Court. Murder, manslaughter, assault, burglary, sexual offences, and fraud are all considered criminal offences. 

When a person is convicted of a criminal offence, they typically receive jail time or community orders. The standard of proof in these cases is higher than in civil proceedings. To be convicted of a criminal offence, the prosecution must prove the charges “beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

The Main Differences

The most significant difference between civil and criminal law is the aim of the cases. Civil cases aim to amend an unfair situation, while criminal cases seek to punish the offender. In criminal cases, the court wants to ensure that the offender will not commit the crime again. The goal is to protect society as a whole. For that reason, sentences in criminal cases are harsher and often include jail time.

Another significant difference between civil and criminal law is that civil cases can be brought to court by individuals or organisations, while criminal cases are brought by the government. Only the defendant can appeal the verdict in criminal cases, but both parties can appeal in a civil case.