Civil vs Criminal Court
Identifying the difference between Civil and Criminal Court is fairly simple. Although we encounter these terms in our day-to-day lives, many of us are not certain as to the precise function of each court. Legal disputes and cases are frequently heard in courts today, but knowing with certainty the type of cases that fall within the jurisdiction of a Civil Court or Criminal Court requires some understanding. In general, many of us are aware of the difference between a civil wrong and a crime. Therefore, think of a Civil Court and Criminal Court as courts that hear and adjudicate a civil wrong and crime respectively.
What is Civil Court?
A Civil Court typically deals with a civil dispute. Thus, a case involving a dispute or issue between individuals or corporations will fall within the jurisdiction of a Civil Court. Simply put, a Civil Court deals with cases of a non-criminal nature. Disputes relating to family such as divorce or adoption cases, property disputes such as those between landlord and tenant, or disputes relating to debt, personal injury, contracts and agreements are heard and determined in a Civil Court.
A case in a Civil Court typically commences when one party files action against another party in relation to some dispute and seeks monetary or some other type of relief. In such an instance, the parties must prove their case by a “preponderance of evidence” or on a “balance of probabilities”. This means that the Court must be convinced that one party’s case is stronger than the other. Monetary relief entails the payment of cash or a fine. In cases of divorce, the Court’s final judgment may result in a change in the parties’ civil status. Other types of relief include the return of property or an order to do or not to do some act. Keep in mind that,in a Civil Court, the defendant does not go to jail or serve a prison sentence. For example, where a company has not performed its obligations as per the terms of a contract and the other party sues the company, then in the event the party filing the case succeeds, the company will have to provide the relief claimed by the plaintiff.
What is a Criminal Court?
The function of a Criminal Court is relatively straightforward. Simply put, it deals with cases concerning crimes or actions that violate the Criminal Law of a country. The procedure and function of a Criminal Court differ from that of a Civil Court. The ultimate objective of a Criminal Court is to hear the case before it and determine if indeed the defendant is guilty of committing the crime. If convicted, the Court will impose punishment on the defendant by way of a prison sentence, payment of a fine or a combination of both.
Typically, a criminal case is initiated by the government, also known as the prosecution. The burden is on the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. A trial in a Criminal Court will typically include the presence of a jury and the verdict of the jury must be unanimous. Therefore, a Criminal Court has jurisdiction to hear cases involving the violation of criminal law or laws stipulating certain crimes. Crimes such as murder, arson, robbery, rape or burglary are heard and tried in a Criminal Court.
What is the difference between Civil and Criminal Court?
• A Civil Court hears cases pertaining to disputes between individuals or corporations. It does not hear and determine cases relating to crimes.
• A Criminal Court refers to a court in which criminal cases are tried and adjudicated.
• In the case of a Civil Court, if the plaintiff succeeds in proving his/her case, then the defendant will be liable to provide relief of a monetary or other nature.
• In contrast, a Criminal Court will sentence a defendant to prison if convicted.
- Queens civil court in Jamaica by CC BY-SA 3.0)
- International Criminal Court by Loranchet (CC BY-SA 3.0)