The Australian legal system is complex and can overwhelm those unfamiliar with its intricacies. One of the most fundamental distinctions in Australian law is between civil and criminal law. This article will explore the difference between civil and criminal law and their respective roles in Australian society.
Civil Law vs Criminal Law
What is Civil Law?
Civil law relates to disputes between individuals or organisations where one party seeks to claim compensation or redress for harm suffered as a result of another party’s actions. Furthermore, a party files a civil case (plaintiff) against another to obtain a judgement that will compensate the plaintiff for their loss. Examples of civil law cases include disputes over contracts, property, and personal injury claims.
A judge hears civil cases in civil courts. The standard of proof required in civil cases is lower than in criminal cases, with the plaintiff only required to prove their case on the balance of probabilities. This means that the plaintiff must only demonstrate that it is more likely than not that the defendant was responsible for the harm suffered.
What is Criminal Law?
Criminal law deals with offences against society as a whole. The state brings criminal law cases against individuals who are accused of committing crimes such as theft, assault, or murder. Criminal law aims to punish offenders for their crimes and deter others from committing similar offences.
A judge or a jury decides criminal cases and these are heard in criminal courts. The standard of proof required in criminal cases is much higher than in civil cases, with the prosecution required to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. “Beyond reasonable doubt” means that the prosecution must demonstrate that there is no other reasonable explanation for the defendant’s actions and that the evidence is consistent with the defendant’s guilt.
Summary of the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Law
|To resolve disputes between individuals or organisations.
|To punish individuals who have committed crimes against society.
|Plaintiff (person bringing the case) and Defendant (person being sued).
|Prosecution (represents society) and Defendant (person accused of a crime).
|Burden of Proof
|Balance of probabilities.
|Beyond reasonable doubt (no other logical explanation is derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime).
|Compensation or damages paid by the Defendant to the Plaintiff.
|Fines, imprisonment, and community service.
|Generally not necessary. A judge can decide the case.
|Available for serious criminal cases.
|Contract disputes, personal injury lawsuits, property disputes.
|Murder, assault, theft, drug offences.
Examples of Cases
Here are some examples of what civil law deals with:
- A person sues another person for damages after being injured in a car accident.
- A business sues another business for breach of contract.
- A parent sues a school district for negligence after the occurrence of an injury to the child on school grounds.
On the other hand, these are some examples of criminal law cases:
- A person is charged with assault after punching another person.
- A person is charged with theft after stealing a car.
- A person is charged with murder after killing another person.
In conclusion, the differences between civil and criminal law in Australia are significant, and understanding these differences is crucial for anyone navigating the Australian legal system. Cases about civil law involve disputes between individuals seeking compensation, while criminal law cases involve offences against society as a whole.
The standard of proof required in civil cases is lower than in criminal cases, and the case aims to obtain a judgement that will compensate the plaintiff. Finally, the standard of proof required in criminal cases is much higher, and the aim of the case is to punish offenders for their crimes and to deter others from committing similar offences.
How Can a Lawyer Help You with Civil and Criminal Cases?
Here are the specific ways an attorney can help you file a complaint or defence.
- Investigate the facts of the case. A lawyer will investigate your case’s facts to gather evidence supporting your claim. This may involve interviewing witnesses, obtaining documents, or conducting expert analysis.
- Draft a complaint. A lawyer will draft a complaint that sets out the facts of your case and the legal claims you are making.
- Serve the complaint on the other party. A lawyer will serve the complaint on the other party, who will then have a certain amount of time to respond.
- Negotiate a settlement. A lawyer may be able to negotiate a settlement with the other party, which would resolve the case without going to trial.
- Advise you of your rights. A lawyer will advise you of your rights as a criminal defendant, including the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to a fair trial.
- Investigate the facts of the case. A lawyer will investigate the facts of your case to gather evidence that may help to exonerate you. This may involve interviewing witnesses, obtaining documents, or conducting expert analysis.
- Draft a defence. A lawyer will draft a defence to the criminal charges against you, which may include arguing that the charges are unfounded, that you were acting in self-defence, or that you were not the one who committed the crime.
- Negotiate a plea bargain. A lawyer may be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the criminal prosecution, which would result in a lesser charge or a reduced sentence.
In both cases, an attorney can:
- Prepare for trial. If the case does not settle, a lawyer will prepare for trial by gathering additional evidence, drafting motions, and practising your testimony.
- Represent you at trial. If the case goes to trial, a lawyer will represent you in court and argue your case on your behalf.
No matter what type of case you face, it is important to speak with a civil or criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible. Our civil and criminal lawyers at JB Solicitors can help you understand your rights and options and represent you in court if necessary.
Contact us us today if you need help with criminal and civil law matters.