Jeff Mitchell

Jeff Mitchell

Principal Lawyer & Founder

Difference Between Civil Law and Criminal Law

 Civil Law vs Criminal Law

Criminal law is concerned with behavior that is defined as illegal by the Criminal Code of Canada. While civil law deals with behavior that causes an injury or loss to another individual, whether that loss is physical, mental, emotional, or financial in nature.

This article provides an overview of differences between civil law and criminal law, stages of action and penalties associated with them. For further information on civil law cases call NOVA Injury Law at 1-800-262-8104. 

There two main types of law in Canada:  civil law and criminal law.

1. Civil law is our society’s way of resolving disputes between private parties. Often victims of crime bring civil action against the offender, in addition to criminal charges brought by the Crown.

2.  A criminal case is what happens when someone commits a crime under the Criminal Code, and the government pursues punishment.

3. A civil case is when one person sues another person to resolve a private dispute. Things like contract terms, property ownership, and personal injuries are the subject of civil cases. In these cases, the person bringing the claim is called the “plaintiff,” and the person named in the legal action is called the “Defendant”.  The goal of any civil action should be to resolve the claim without going to court. During each step of the process, pleadings, discovery, and trial, both parties have the opportunity to settle the claim.

Stages of Civil Case and Criminal Case

(a) During the pleading stage, the plaintiff files a Notice of Action with the court and lays out the facts against the defendant. At the same time, the plaintiff files a Statement of Claim indicating the compensation they are seeking.

(b) The Defendant is then served with the legal documents, which means they are provided with a physical copy of the documents in person. They must then file a Statement of Defence in a set amount of time. If the Defendant fails to file a defense before the time limit expires, the Plaintiff can be awarded what they claimed without going to trial.

(c) The next main stage of a civil action is the discovery stage. During discovery, both sides attempt to uncover evidence and information to make their cases. Relevant documents are exchanges between each party to the proceeding. After this occurred, in person or virtual questioning of each party occurs. This process is usually done in a lawyer’s boardroom, and is recorded by a court reporter. Discovery hearings can for several last hours or even days. Ideally, each party to the action will complete their discovery hearings knowing the case that would be presented in court. The parties can then use that information to build their case or attempt to settle the matter before going to trial.

(d) The final stage of a civil action is the trial in a courtroom. A trial should be the last resort for most claims because of the time and expense involved. Most often, a judge is selected to hear cases, but, in personal injury cases, the plaintiff may decide to have the case heard by a jury instead. Rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard to convict in a criminal case, the standard of proof in a civil trial is a balance of probabilities – meaning the judge or jury must determine if it is more likely than not that the allegations are true.

(e) If the decision-maker finds in favor of the plaintiff, the most common award is money. The Defendant will then be responsible for paying the amount of the award to the Plaintiff.

On the other hand, a criminal case is an offense against the laws defined in the Criminal Code of Canada. These offenses are classified into two types, Summary Offences and Indictable Offences. Summary offenses are considered to be minor, and the maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine, six months in prison, or a combination of the two. An indictable offense is more serious and includes charges, such as assault, theft, or murder.  During a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This higher burden of proof is required because the accused may go to prison if convicted. 

In both criminal and civil cases, the decision can be appealed. The appeal process can seek to change the initial judgment, the damages awarded, or the severity of the sentence. We know that laws regarding civil law and criminal law can be complicated and confusing. NOVA Injury Law is dedicated to practicing civil law claims. We have a trusted network of lawyers who work in the areas of practice we don’t cover. If you have a question about a legal matter, call NOVA Injury Law today. We’re here to help answer your questions about a civil law case, including personal injury, long term disability, and medical malpractice. If your claim falls outside of our areas of practice, we’ll help you get connected to a lawyer who specializes in that area of law.

About us

NOVA Injury Law, located in Bedford, NS, is a personal injury law firm. We provide approachable, responsive, and compassionate representation to victims of car accidents, slip & falls, long term disability benefits denial, birth injuries, brain injuries, property damage, medical malpractice, and faulty products. We’re the only law firm in Atlantic Canada with a Doctor on the team.

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