Understanding the Difference Between Criminal & Civil Law

Posted on July 24, 2023

civil criminal lawyer

The legal system in Ontario plays a vital role in upholding rights, maintaining order, and resolving disputes to protect our society. When a dispute, suit, or issue requires legal action, it will fall into one of two branches of the system: civil law or criminal law, at which point you'll need to find a lawyer specializing in that field. Understanding the difference and specificities of the two will help you ensure that you find the best lawyer available to advocate for your case. At Karrass Law, Robert Karrass, a leading criminal and civil litigation lawyer, can offer you high-level services in both departments. 

To understand some of the significant differences between these legal experts and gain insights into the roles and responsibilities of civil and criminal lawyers, read on. 

The Nature of the Legal Dispute

The first difference between civil and criminal law lies in the nature of the offences and the entities involved. Disputes related to personal injuries, contracts, property, family matters, or other non-criminal disputes are civil cases centred around rights and obligations. 

On the other hand, criminal law deals with offences committed against society as a whole. In a criminal case, an accused person or persons is represented by a criminal lawyer and a prosecution representing the government, who files these charges and pursues the legal case. Criminal defence lawyers are required in cases that violate the criminal code, ranging from minor offences like petty theft to more serious crimes like homicide. 

Who is Involved?

While there are similarities to the roles of the accused and the pursuer of charges in civil and criminal law, the verbiage varies. 

In criminal cases, the government is the plaintiff and is responsible for representing the interests of society as a whole. The defendant is the person who has been accused and charged with a crime and requires legal support from a criminal lawyer. Whereas in a civil suit, the plaintiff is the person or entity suing the other party, and the defendant is the person or entity who is being sued. 

The Burden of Proof or Standard of Proof

In criminal law, the role of the prosecution or crown is to find the accused party guilty, while in civil cases, the plaintiff's hope is that the court finds the defendant liable. The burden of proof is a fundamental legal concept that refers to the obligation of one party in a legal dispute to present sufficient evidence to convince the judge or jury of the truth of their claim. Two primary standards of proof are used in legal proceedings: "balance of probabilities." in civil cases and "beyond a reasonable doubt" in criminal cases.

  • Balance of Probabilities is a term used in civil cases. Here a plaintiff and their civil lawyer must provide sufficient evidence to prove that the defendant is responsible for the wrongdoing alleged. The burden of proof is the responsibility of the plaintiff and their lawyer, who must demonstrate that their version of events or claims is more likely to be true than the defendant's. The judge or jury will find in favour of the plaintiff if their civil lawyer can successfully convict the trier that their claim is the truth.
  • Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is a phrase used in criminal cases where the burden of proof is much higher. Here it is the prosecution's responsibility to prove the defendant's guilt with no uncertainty. At the same time, it is the responsibility of the criminal defence lawyer to cast doubt in the prosecution's case. This difference highlights the seriousness of criminal cases and emphasizes the need for solid evidence before convicting someone. 

Results or Resolutions of Legal Proceedings

The final significant difference between civil and criminal law is the results of each case. 

Because civil law typically involves a suit for damages, a case will typically be resolved in the form of some compensation which is often monetary, but sometimes, in the case of family court custody. The goal of a civil suit is to make a defendant compensate if they are found liable. Whether you are the plaintiff or defendant in a civil case, you must find an experienced and trusted civil litigation lawyer who understands the intricacies of the civil system. 

Criminal cases are meant to result in punishment, deterrence, and/or rehabilitation if the accused is found guilty. As such, the penalties associated with a guilty verdict can include fines, community service, probation or imprisonment.. The job of your criminal defence attorney is to find the best arguments for a particular case and get the best possible sentencing based on the specifics of that circumstance. 

Trusting Karrass Law for All Your Legal Needs

At Karrass Law, our team of experienced professionals, led by Robert Karrass, is well-equipped to guide you through your legal proceedings with expert legal advice, be they criminal or civil in nature. 

Book a consultation to learn more about our services and explore how we can help with your case. 


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