The Difference Between Civil and Criminal Law

Canada’s legal system is comprised of two major types of law: civil and criminal. A criminal case occurs when one party commits a crime under the Criminal Code and the government, or “Crown”, pursues punishment on behalf of the public. A civil case, on the other hand, occurs when one party sues another party in an effort to resolve a private dispute.

The main differences between civil and criminal cases are the objectives, the limitations, or deadline for taking legal action and the level of evidence needed to convince the judge or jury.  

The Basics Behind a Civil Case  

A civil suit happens when individuals or corporations disagree on a legal matter. This can range from a variety of issues, such as employment contract terms, property ownership, business transactions, personal injury, and more. The person who initiated the suit 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 or to something belonging to A.

The civil case process is complex and goes through a variety of stages, known as pleadings, discovery, and trial.

During the first stage of pleading, the plaintiff pleads with the court and specifies the complaint against the defendant and the remedy they are seeking. At this time, the defendant also provides the court with a statement of defence. Failure to provide a statement of defence results in the court automatically assuming the plaintiff’s allegations are true, causing the defendant to lose 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. Oftentimes, this includes requests for documents, depositions, and subpoenas.  

The final stage of a civil suit is the trial. During the trial, it’s the plaintiff’s responsibility to present facts that support the case against the defendant. 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 situation occurred. The most common remedy awarded in civil cases is damages or money.

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:

  1. Summary Conviction Offence

  2. Indictable Offence

The maximum penalty for a summary offence is a $5,000 fine, six months in prison, or a combination of the two. They are considered to be minor offences. An indictable offence is more serious and includes charges, such as theft, murder, and breaking and entering.

In Canada, the accused is considered 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

  • Restitution

  • Probation

  • Community service

  • Imprisonment

The Similarities

In both criminal and civil cases, the decision made by the court can be appealed. The appeal process can seek to change the initial judgement. Other alternatives include appealing the damages or severity of the sentence. Additionally, the parties are entitled to a lawyer for both types of law. In a criminal case, however, a lawyer will be appointed to you if you cannot afford one.

MacGillivray Injury and Insurance 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.

law, justiceBlue HatComment