There are two types of law: civil and criminal. Criminal law occurs when someone commits a crime under the Criminal Code, and the government pursues punishment on behalf of the public. On the other hand, a civil case occurs when someone sues someone else to resolve a dispute between them.
The main differences between civil and criminal cases are the objectives, the deadline for taking legal action, and the level of evidence needed.
The basics behind a civil case
A civil suit happens when people disagree on a private matter, such as contractual terms or car accidents. The person who initiated the lawsuit is called the plaintiff, and the person being sued is called the defendant. The basic principle of civil cases is always the same:
A (plaintiff) sues B (defendant) for causing damage to A.
The civil case process is complex and goes through various stages: pleadings, discovery, and trial.
During the first stage, the plaintiff explains the defendant’s actions and the remedy they want. The defendant responds to the complaint with a statement of defence, explaining their position. If the defendant doesn’t provide a statement of defence, the court automatically assumes the plaintiff’s allegations are true, and the defendant loses by default.
An examination for discovery is conducted before trial. It allows both parties to gain the evidence and information necessary to make their case by requesting important documents and asking questions to the other side.
The final stage of a civil suit is the trial. During the trial, the party that started the lawsuit presents the facts explaining what the defendant did to harm them. Once both parties have presented their case, the judge or jury will reach a verdict. The standard of proof in a civil trial is on a balance of probabilities, meaning that is more likely than not that the defendant was negligent, and this negligence caused your injuries. The most common remedy awarded in civil cases is money.
All these stages may not be necessary for every claim. In fact, most cases do not go all the way to trial. Settlements can be negotiated between the two sides at any stage in the case.
Understanding criminal cases
A criminal case is considered to be an offence against society as a whole. These offences are defined in the Criminal Code and are classified into two types:
- Summary Conviction Offence
- Indictable Offence
Summary offences are considered to be minor offences. The maximum penalty for a summary offence is a $5,000 fine, six months in prison, or a combination of the two. An indictable offence is more serious and includes charges, such as theft and murder.
In Canada, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. During a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a higher burden of proof than in civil cases. This is because the accused may lose their liberty if convicted. If found guilty, the accused may face a variety of penalties, including:
- A fine
- Community service
In both criminal and civil cases, you can appeal the decision made by the court. When appealing, you can seek to change aspects of the initial judgement, such as the damages awarded. Additionally, the parties are entitled to a lawyer for both types of law. In a criminal case, however, you will be given a lawyer if you cannot afford one.
MacGillivray Law is Atlantic Canada’s leading personal injury law firm. If you’ve been injured, we will help you build your civil case against the negligent party and fight for the compensation you deserve. Learn more about our legal services or contact us today to book your free consultation.
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