Criminal Law vs Civil Law


The key differences between criminal law and civil law are:

  • Criminal law is concerned with offences / crimes against the state
  • Civil law is concerned with the rights and duties of individuals towards each other.

Court structure

Another key difference is the court’s structure where the cases are dealt with:

  • Most criminal cases start in a magistrates court.
    • More serious criminal cases are referred to the crown court.
  • Minor civil cases are heard in a county court.
    • More serious civil cases are heard in the the high court.

Criminal cases involving health and safety are heard at the crown court, the high court, the court of appeal and the house of lords.


Civil cases must be proved on the balance of probabilities.

Criminal cases are proven beyond reasonable doubt. This is a far higher standard of proof and the evidence, used to prosecute, must reflect this.

Compensation / Penalties

Compensation is usually awarded in civil cases. This is usually in the form of financial compensation.

Whereas, penalties are usually imposed in criminal cases. This could include fines, imprisonment, orders etc.

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