Spread the love

This article is Written by Gargi Nagpal of 4th Semester of Alliance University, Bengaluru,


India’s legal system is a hybrid one as it includes various laws (common, criminal, civil and statutory) in its framework. Although each legal system has its own significance, there still remains a scope that one may or may not be superior to the other. Today law is considered as that effective medium which is essential for bringing about drastic social change in entire nation or in any region to be specific. A distinguishing feature of the civil law is its enforceability in a horizontal manner in the society directly against those who do not succeed in their responsibilities and does not in any way depend on authority acting from top to bottom within the realm of public law. Similarly, to cater the increasing rate of crimes venomously in and around the globe, a specific area of law called criminal law. The purpose of bylaws are being passed in order to keep society free from criminal activities committed by the offenders and it is due to this reason that bylaws under criminal laws are being enforced. This research paper aims to critically analyse both civil law and criminal law and differentiate between the two.

Keywords: Hybrid legal system, Civil law, Criminal law, Social change, Public law, Felonies.


It is often said that civil law and criminal law are distinct from each other having their respective norms of conduct and regulations followed by appropriate punishments for certain offenses. The former deals with a set of behaviours or actions that cause an injury to an individual or to another private party, organization, or corporation which is a result of cases like property damage, breach of contract, negligence, or malpractice while the latter presupposes the work with acts that are recognised as a threat or offense against the public, society and the state, even if victims of the wrong behaviour are private entities or individuals. This species of law investigates cases relating to murders, assaults, and thefts. Criminal law and civil law must have been distinguished by a thin line. It’s crucial to realize that a single action might be covered by both civil and criminal laws. The best of all examples is the legal definition of defamation, which is defined as harm to a person’s reputation and is punishable by both civil and criminal law. As a result, since both subjects are interrelated and not entirely distinct, paths may cross.

Civil Law

Civil law commonly is concerned with solving disputes arising between parties. The essential features include:

  1. It is a branch of law in which matters are heard and decided in Civil Courts and Tribunals.
  2. The damages payable to either party are settled by giving them compensation and not by punishing them with a sentence.
  3. They are a collection of codified laws and decisions that bind the parties concerned.
  4. Contract law is one of the most important elements of civil law. Hence civil law is heavily influenced by contractual duties.

Civil Law is vast enough to include a bunch of dynamic branches constituting a successful and fruitful legal career for the people involved in it. The working under Civil law stresses on providing a mechanism to resolve conflicts between the parties. Civil law has many varied branches, many of them are in written form, a few are defined and rest are based on judicial precedents.

Contract: A disagreement related to contract occurs when one party is unable to stand by the terms and conditions of the agreement rendering it void. In such circumstances, the amount of compensation is provided to the aggrieved party by the one who violated the contract.

Property: Conflicts in respect of property arise where an estate is damaged by another person or when any harm in the body of the owner is caused.

Family Relations: Where parties have to make family arrangements such as ownership, settlement or divorce, they can use civil law to address their indifferences.

Criminal Law

This branch of law is concerned with all those acts which are malafide in nature committed against the state and every member of society must know that offender of such heinous crime is served equivalent punishment for his grave acts as exercised by him against the innocent. Features of criminal law are as follows:

  1. Criminal cases are heard for decision in Criminal Courts or Sessions Courts.
  2. The harm done to a person is justified by punishing the perpetrator in the similar way.
  3. It lays a foundation of a public offence against the public interest, rather than a private responsibility.
  4. It is an infringement of public rights.

Unlike Civil law, Criminal law is not divided as such into sub-variants but it is an amalgamation of important procedural and regulating acts which are considered pertinent in order to be constituted as a criminal case. These events set a basis of all those rules which are a part of criminal act.

Personal Crime: When a person deceitfully commits an act that causes bodily or emotional harm to another person and might be violent or murderous in nature will result into a personal crime. Criminal assault, domestic violence, kidnapping, abduction and child abuse are examples of such form of crimes.

Property: Just like personal crime, property crimes may also cause bodily or mental harm to owner of the estate. Burglary, robbery, theft and dacoity are examples. It includes fraud or theft committed with the goal of making a financial gain. Financial crimes include emerging offences like fraud, blackmail and cybercrime.



Laws that specify standards for interpersonal interactions and are intended to safeguard individual interests by regulating such interactions are referred to as civil law. Contractual agreements, like those between two parties in a custody agreement, are upheld by civil law. Laws governing liability for property damage and other incidents involving damages are also enforced under civil law. In civil offenses, victims are frequently compensated financially for their losses. Criminal law refers to regulations that punish offenders. By receiving complaints against people who have committed crimes, criminal law enforcers these laws by offering a trial and, if convicted, a punishment for criminal offenses. Punitive measures for offenders, like probation or incarceration, are frequently associated with criminal offenses.


The punishment is one of the key distinctions between criminal and civil law. When it comes to criminal law, a person who is found guilty faces the possibility of prison time, a fine, or even the death penalty. In contrast, under civil law, the loser must pay the plaintiff punitive damage, which is the amount of loss that the judge determines. Criminal defendants have more rights and protections than civil defendants because criminal proceedings are more serious than civil proceedings. In criminal cases, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution to establish the defendant’s guilt. Contrary to this conception, in case of civil law the burden of proof initially falls on the plaintiff and then with the defendant to refute the evidence provided by the prosecution.


The incident’s facts that demonstrate why a claim should be upheld in court are referred to as the cause of action. The type of the incident under review in a court of law will determine the causes of action for civil versus criminal cases. Property damage, parental neglect or contractual disputes are a few examples of situations that could give rise to a civil law breach claim. Theft, assault, and drug-related offenses are examples of crimes that give rise to legal action for breaking criminal laws.


The people or organizations involved in the incident that the cause of action is using to bring them before the court are referred to as “parties.” An individual is accountable for filing in civil cases. The plaintiff files a written complaint with the court against the defendant. The written complaint will describe the circumstances of the incident for which the plaintiff is seeking the initiation of civil proceedings as well as the grounds on which the plaintiff contends that the defendant should be held accountable for damages.


Indian Judgements:

  1. National Legal Services Authority (NLSA) v. Union of India[1]

Petitioner was the NLSA in the instant case and was accompanied by two others. The Union of India was representing the defendant. The case was put before a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court. They gave a verdict declaring transgender people as ‘Third Gender’. The court upheld that equality and fundamental rights would be given to transgender people like other people as given in Constitution of India. This gave a significant reformation as to how gender equality in now looked at.

  • Shayara Bano v. Union of India[2]

Talaq means divorce. Talaq ul Biddat was used to give instant divorce by saying the word talaq three consecutive times. It could be given orally, written or in electronic form. This right was exclusively given to all Muslim man in India. A bill called The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 was passed by the government making practice of Triple Talaq illegal in the country and punishable for upto 3 years of imprisonment. The bill was passed even though it faced sheer resistance from some class of people.

  • K.M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra[3]

This is one of the landmark cases in Indian history as it became the last case to be decided by jury trial in India. K.M. Nanavati, the plaintiff was a respected naval officer who killed his wife’s extra-marital lover, Prem Ahuja in 1959. After committing the crime, Nanavati went to the local police and surrendered himself without any investigation. The main point of contention was whether the action of plaintiff was due to grave provocation or it was a pre-mediated murder. The trial court bench declared that Nanavati was not guilty and it was agreed by 8:1 majority although a higher bench reversed this decision later.

International Judgements:

  1. Goldman v. Simpson[4]

A civil suit was filed by Ronald Goldman’s father, Fred Goldman, and the official naming of the case, Goldman v. Simpson reflects the two parties involved. In the instant case, Fred Goldman filed a suit in form of a complaint with the allegation that O.J. Simpson should be condemned of causing wrongful death of his son, Ron Goldman. In one of the criminal cases, The State of California v. O.J. Simpson, the cause of action was considered to be the murder of two victims. In a civil case of 1997, Goldman v. Simpson, the cause of action was observed to be the wrongful death, that involves a civil legal action in which the plaintiff seeks damages in the form of money from a defendant for causing death.

  • The State of California v. O.J. Simpson[5]

In a criminal case, the district attorney is responsible for filing a complaint against a perpetrator of a crime. The parties in a criminal case will most of the time consist of the state versus the defendant. One such example is of the case, The People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson where three deputy district attorneys served as prosecuting attorneys on behalf of the people of the state of California. A district attorney is one who represents the state in jurisdiction of which the crime is alleged to have occurred. The filing of charges does not consist of evidence of the crime rather it will determine the charges on which the individual will be tried on.


Being the two most significant areas of law, each has its own distinct set of guidelines. Strong legislation and procedural laws govern both civil and criminal law. Criminal law has retribution machinery, whereas civil law has mechanisms for resolving disputes. The majority of the law is covered by these two legal disciplines. People who want to pick one of them can do so because each one is crucial to the efficient operation of our nation. Civil law is divided into a wide segment of subfields than criminal law. As we have seen, civil law has many subsets, including corporate law, business law, and property law. While some areas of civil law, such as torts, are not codified, almost all criminal law laws and regulations are. You could say that protecting the public interest is what criminal law is all about. In addition to protecting society, it entails punishing and rehabilitating offenders. The harm, loss, or injury to one party or the other is dealt with by civil law. In contrast to a criminal case, where a defendant may or may not be found guilty, a civil case determines whether or not the defendant is responsible for damages.


  1. https://indiankanoon.org/
  2. https://www.scconline.com/
  3. PSA Pillai’s, Criminal Law, 14th Edition, 2019, LexisNexis
  4. https://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/justice-studies/blog/civil-law-versus-criminal-law/
  5. https://lawshelf.com/coursewarecontentview/civil-law-vs-criminal-law

[1] National Legal Services Authority v. UOI, AIR 2014 SC 1863

[2] Shayara Bano v. UOI, AIR 2017 9 SCC 1 (SC) 

[3] K.M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1962, SCR (1) 567

[4] Goldman v. Simpson, 72 Cal.Rptr.3d 729

[5] The State of California v. O.J. Simpson, 43 Cal.2d 553


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *