Civil and Criminal law

Our legal system consists of various rules, regulations, laws and punishments. Remembering all of them for a layman can be very difficult. This is the reason most of us don’t know about the broad distinction between the laws and reasons for distinction between their punishments.

Many of the citizens of our country tend to believe that if they do any wrong, they would be behind the bars. The court would sentence them to serve a term in jail. This is the main reason the citizens need to understand that it is not the case. There are many a times, a legal injury is caused but rights are not violated and vice versa.

To understand the distinction, it is important to understand the law.

Civil and Criminal law


In common language, we can say, Civil Law is the part of a country’s set of laws which is concerned with the private affairs of citizens. For example laws related to marriage and property ownership rather than with crime.

It is a body of rules that defines and protects the private rights of a citizen, offers legal remedies that may be sought in a dispute and covers areas of law such as contracts, law of torts, property and family law.

The main purpose of civil law is to uphold the rights of individuals. For example the motive behind the compensation given to the plaintiff in law of torts is not to give money to him but to make the defendant realize that a right has been violated.

Case laws that come under civil law:

  • Case for breach of contract.

When one of the parties fails to perform the condition agreed upon due to any reason, it is called a breach of contract.

Bolton v Mahedeva [1972]

The claimant agreed to decorate and furnish the defendant’s flat for £750 payable by two installments and the balance on completion. The claimant completed the work but the defendant was unsatisfied with some of the furnishings and refused to pay the final installment. The cost of the defects in the furniture came to £56.


The claimant had substantially performed the contract and was therefore entitled to the contractually agreed price minus the cost of the defects.

  • Case on negligence

Negligence is the breach of a legal duty to care. It means carelessness in a matter in which the law mandates carefulness. A breach of this duty gives a person the right to initiate action against negligence.

Persons who offer medical advice and treatment implicitly state that they have the skill and knowledge to do so, that they have the skill to decide whether to take a case, to decide the treatment, and to administer that treatment. This is known as an “implied undertaking” on the part of a medical professional

Smt Santara v. State of Haryana

Smt. Santra, poor laborer woman with 7 children, underwent sterilization through a state-run program in order to avoid a future pregnancy. After the sterilization was performed, Smt. Santra was provided with a certificate signed by authorized government medical officers and was assured that the procedure had been successful and she therefore would not become pregnant again.

 She subsequently became pregnant and ultimately gave birth to a girl.

When she initially contacted doctors at the hospital, she was told she was not pregnant. However, when the pregnancy became apparent, she was told the sterilization procedure had not been successful.

The procedure had only been done on one fallopian tube, with the other remaining untouched. Smt. Santra requested an abortion but was told that this would be dangerous to her life. Smt. Santra filed a civil claim for damages of rupees two lakhs (about $3,000 USD), citing medical negligence.

  • Case law on nuisance

There are two primary features of nuisance – firstly, it involves the protection of the use of land (or property). Secondly, that protection is from unreasonable interference.

 Rylands v Fletcher (1868)

The defendants employed independent contractors to construct a reservoir on their land. The contractors found disused mines when digging but failed to seal them properly. They filled the reservoir with water. As a result, water flooded through the mineshafts into the plaintiff’s mines on the adjoining property. The plaintiff secured a verdict at Liverpool Assizes. The Court of Exchequer Chamber held the defendant liable and the House of Lords affirmed their decision.

Civil and Criminal law


A body of rules and statutes that defines conduct prohibited by the government because it threatens and harms public safety and welfare. It establishes punishments to be imposed for the commission of such acts.

These include murder, rape, theft, Etc.

The main purpose of criminal law is to maintain law and order and protect society as a whole and to provide punishment for those who break such laws. The punishment and crime is listed in the Indian Penal Code.

Case laws that come under criminal law are:

  •  Case on murder

If the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or secondly.-If it is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused. or thirdly.-If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, or- fourthly.-If the person committing the act knows that it is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death, or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and commits such act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or such injury as aforesaid is called a murder.

In State v. Sushil Sharma the accused pursuing political career was living with the deceased, a fellow female leader, without claiming her to be his wife. He shot her in the head, and subsequently cut off her head and limbs and attempted to burn them in a Tandoor. It was held that the act of the accused reflected extreme depravity and it would fall within category of rarest of the rare case.

In State of Tamil Nadu v. T. Suthanthiraraja, the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was killed under a conspiracy and main accused were granted death penalty, treating it as rarest of the rare cases.

  • Case on rape

Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without that person’s consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority, or against a person who is incapable of giving valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, has an intellectual disability or is below the legal age of consent.

Mathura rape case

On March 26, 1972, a young Adivasi girl named Mathura was raped by two policemen while in custody. Her family lodged a complaint against the two policemen and the trial went all the way to the Supreme Court. The policemen were acquitted because Mathura was apparently ‘habituated to sexual intercourse’, they could prove that she was sexually active but not that she had been raped.

  • Case on Dacoity

Dacoity means – an act of violent robbery committed by an armed gang. There is no difference between robbery and dacoity except in the number of offenders. Robbery is dacoity, if the persons committing robbery are five or more in number. In Malaysia and Singapore dacoity is termed as ‘gang robbery‘. The offence of dacoity consists in the cooperation of five or more persons to commit or attempt to commit robbery. It is necessary that all the persons should share the common intention of committing robbery.

Bhima Shaw and Others. V. The State on 10 January, 1956 Forty five persons were tried in the Court of the learned Sessions Judge for an offence under Section 400, I.P.C., on the allegation that they belonged to a gang of persons associated for the purpose of habitually committing dacoity during the period from 28-11-49 to 18-7-52.

Civil and Criminal law


  1. One of the main point in civil law is that the burden of proof is lower in a civil case, it only has to prove on the likelihood that the defendant is guilty. In criminal law cases the facts have to be proven beyond reasonable doubt, if there is any doubt that the defendant is innocent then he should be found not guilty.
  • An individual or entity found legally accountable in a civil case may be ordered to pay money, give up property or perform certain contractual obligations, but are not subject to imprisonment.
  • A person convicted for a criminal offense, however may be ordered to pay a fine and may be incarcerated. Plaintiff is the person who files the suit and drags the defendant to court and no 3rd party can file a case. In criminal cases the 3rd party can also file a case.

The distinction would be better understood with the help of examples.


It was a monumental case for the civil rights movement and attaining racial equality.

During the 1950s, a large number of schools were segregated by race. This was the case of Topeka, where Linda Brown, her sister, and other black students were denied access to nearby segregated white schools. The Topeka NAACP filed a case on the behalf of a group of 13 parents and 20 children who believed their right to equality was violated by the segregated school system.

This class-action suit was named after one of the plaintiffs Oliver Brown. The case was taken to Federal Court, but the segregation was upheld because the court claimed all white and non- white students had similar buildings, transportation, curriculum, etc.

The case reached the SC and the Browns insisted that segregated schools would never be equal. The court decided that school segregation was unconstitutional because it violated the Right to equality.

In this case we can see that the defendants were not sentenced to jail. The parties have only filed the case and not the third person.


He was a former National Football League, actor, broadcaster. He was tried for 2 accounts of murder in 1994. Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and a restaurant waiter, Ron Goldman.

Simpson was represented by high profile defense team that many referred to as the Dream Team.

They were able to convince the jury there was reasonable doubt about the DNA evidence, and he alleged misconduct by the Los Angel’s Police Department.

The trial lasted 11 months and Simpson was found not guilty. Since then it is often referred to as “the trial of the century” and there have been television series, movies made about the trial.

However, the families of the deceased filed a civil lawsuit against Simpson. The jury unanimously found him guilty for both deaths and awarded the families $33.5 million for compensatory and punitive damages.

13 years later Simpson was convicted and sentenced for robbery and weapons charges.

Through this case also we can understand the difference between civil and criminal law.