Among others, the law can be categorized into two major branches i.e. Civil law and Criminal law

Sometimes you may be confused about how those two branches of the law operate. If you are eager to understand these branches keep reading.

My focus here is to tell you every important thing you need to know about civil law and criminal law.  Specifically, I will cover on

    Definition and examples of Civil law

    Civil law can be defined to mean a body of rules/principles set by competent authority to govern all conducts of civil nature, for example, contracts, labor & employment, torts, family & marriage, etc.

    Generally, civil law can be divided into two types that is a substantive civil law and procedural civil law

    Procedural Civil Law

    Is the branch of civil law that is a directory in nature.

    It deals with legal steps which individuals shall comply when seeking a particular legal right against an individual or corporation in the court of law or any other organs established by law.

    The main objective of procedural law is to provide a guide to attain justice or any legal right.

    Example of procedural civil law includes civil procedure/litigation, Evidence law, procedural labor law, etc.

    Substantive Civil Law

    This is the branch of civil law which provides for the rights and duties of individuals.

    Example of substantive civil law includes the law of tort, the law of contract, employment law, Human right law etc.

    Generally, civil procedural law works as a servant of civil substantive law.

    For Example, if a person commits a tort or breach of contract, tort, and contract are substantive law which provides only rights and duties of individuals, therefore, in order for that person to claim for his right on tort or contract, he must invoke procedural law into play. Procedural law acts as a guide for individual rights.

    To understand more in that area you may consider reading this article on how procedural law works.

     Definition and examples of Criminal Law

    Criminal law is the branch of law designated to protect the interest of the public.

    Criminal law defines the duty, which a person owes to the society in contrast to civil law, which primarily concerned with the rights of individuals among themselves.

    Any law which has been set up to protect the public interest is an example of criminal law, it may include ant-money laundry law, corruption law, ant-drugs law, ant-robbery law, etc.

    Like civil law, criminal law can also be categorized into two types; i.e. Procedural criminal law Substantive criminal law

     Substantive Criminal Law

    It is a branch of criminal law which creates and defines offenses and offer penalty/punishment to the offenders.

    Examples of substantive criminal law include Penal Code, Economic crimes, ant money laundry, etc.

    Procedural criminal law

    Procedural criminal law is the way in which substantive criminal law is applied.

    It is the way upon which the prosecution conducts its case, also the way in which the courts handle criminal matters that are within their jurisdiction.

    It is also the modality upon which criminal justice is put into effect.

    This law is applied in criminal cases as a means by which the public and the accused person can obtain their rights granted by law.

    It shows the duties and rights of both the state and the accused person when dealing with criminal offenses.

    It strikes the balance between an individual’s liberties versus public interest.

    An individual’s liberty is safeguarded when proper rules of finding the truth are followed so that one cannot be deprived of his freedom without justifiable cause.

    Example of procedural criminal law includes the criminal procedure, evidence law (specifically deals with proof), extradition law, etc.

    Difference between Civil Law and Criminal Law

    After having the basic understanding, the following are the difference between civil law and criminal law

    Civil Law Vs Criminal Law: Meaning, Examples, Difference, Similarity and Everything You Must Know

    Mode of Operation/Focus

    Criminal law is the branch of law designated to protect the interest of the public while civil law is the branch of law designed to govern all conducts of civil nature.

    How Case Is Initiated

    In criminal law it is the state, which initiates the case and prosecutes. The claimant/victim can never initiate the criminal case but he/she will be the key witness on state’s case.

    When we talk about criminal law is that where the state is directly interested while in civil law it is the plaintiff/claimant/victim or his/her attorney who initiates the case and prosecute.

    Mode of Punishment

    In civil law the defendant once found liable has to pay damages/compensation to the plaintiff while in criminal law the offender once found guilty is sentenced to fine or imprisonment.

    Burden of Proof

    The burden of proof in criminal law is beyond a reasonable doubt.

    That means the prosecution has the burden of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused person is guilty of the offense charged.

    In civil law, the burden of proof is on the balance of probabilities.

    That means the plaintiff has the burden of proving the existence of any fact (s) as to his legal right or liability of another party on the balance of probabilities


    The parties which involved in a criminal case are state versus individual, technically addressed as republic versus accused person(s).

    In civil cases, parties are individuals. The party who sue is called the plaintiff/claimant while the one sued is called the defendant/respondent.

    Document Used To Initiate the Case

    The document used to institute a criminal case is called charge while the document used to initiate a normal civil suit is called plaint

    Limitation of Time

    All Civil claims have a time limitation on the institution of case. For instance in Tanzania, the case on contract can only be initiated within 6 years from when the cause of action raised while the case on the land is 12 years.

    That’s means if you have a land dispute you have to file your case within 12 years, above that, your claim will be dismissed unless you seek an extension of time.

    In criminal cases, things are totally different. There is no time limit of instituting a criminal case; a case can be filled at any time when circumstance renders it necessary even after a long period of time.

    In short, time never run against the state.


    The civil law is flexible while criminal law is strictly/rigid.

    In civil law, the court is free to modify, delete, and create new principles and rules which govern matters of civil natures. For example, courts are free to create a new form of tort.

    Principles of criminal liability is very strict and rigid. The court is supposed to apply them with no adjustment for the interest of justice.

    For example, the maxim  'Nulla poena sine lege' means no offense without law

    That means a person cannot be accused to commit an offense which is not stated by any law to that effect.

    Another example is, in criminal law, a person can never be criminally responsible for the act of another i.e. a father cannot be accused by the criminal act of his son.

    But in civil law a person may be liable for the act of another­, for example, a master can be liable for the acts of his servant or a principal can be liable for the acts of the agent, etc.


    The end result of any criminal law procedure is to determine whether the person is guilty or innocent while the end results in civil law is whether the person is liable or not.

    The similarity between Civil Law and Criminal Law

    Apart from those differences, there are some areas in which civil law and criminal law relates. The following are the similarity between civil law and criminal law
    • Both are have substantive and procedural aspects.
    • Both are aimed at control/regulate the external behavior of individuals.
    • Both offer remedies to the innocent party.
    • Both recognize, respect, and protect human rights and principles of natural justice.
    • Both use strictly rules of evidence and procedures to dispense justice.

    My task was to avail to you every important element you need to know about civil law and criminal law. The bottom line is

    Criminal law is the branch of law designated to protect the interest of the public while civil law is the branch of law designed to govern all conducts of civil nature.

    Both are having substantive and procedural aspects whilst recognize, respect, and protect human rights and principles of natural justice.

    Hope you find this post useful. Consider sharing it to spread knowledge.

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