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Civil law, as opposed to criminal law, refers to that branch of law dealing with disputes between individuals and/or organisations, in which compensation may be awarded to the victim. For instance, if a car crash victim claims damages against the driver for loss or injury sustained in an accident, this will be a civil law case.
Civil Law in contrast to Criminal Law, Martial Law, Administrative Law and International Law
- See also: Private law
In the common law, civil law refers to the area of laws, which through incorporation, take on the legal status of individuals. Civil law, in this sense, is usually referred to in comparison to criminal law, which is that body of law involving the state against individuals (including incorporated organizations) where the state relies on the power given it by statutory law. Civil law may also be compared to military law, administrative law and constitutional law (the laws governing the political and law making process), and international law. Where there are legal options for causes of action by individuals within any of these areas of law, it is thereby civil law.
Civil law courts provide a forum for deciding disputes involving torts (such as accidents, negligence, and libel), contract disputes, the probate of wills, trusts, property disputes, administrative law, commercial law, and any other private matters that involve private parties and organizations including government departments. An action by an individual (or legal equivalent) against the attorney general is a civil matter, but when the state, being represented by the prosecutor for the attorney general, or some other agent for the state, takes action against an individual (or legal equivalent including a government department), this is public law, not civil law.
The objectives of civil law is different to other types of law. In civil law there is the attempt to right a wrong, honor an agreement, or settle a dispute. If there is a victim, they get compensation, and the person who is the cause of the wrong pays, this being a civilized form of, or legal alternative to, revenge. If it is an equity matter, there is often a pie for division and it gets allocated by a process of civil law, possibly invoking the doctrines of equity. In public law the objective is usually deterrence, and retribution. The victim, or people secondarily harmed by the wrong, do not get compensated, except with that vague notion called 'closure', and there is no pie for division.
An action in criminal law does not necessarily preclude an action in civil law in common law countries, and may provide a mechanism for compensation to the victims of crime. Such a situation occurred when O.J. Simpson was ordered to pay damages for wrongful death after being acquitted of the criminal charge of murder.
Common Law and Equity
Civil law in common law countries usually refers to both common law and the law of equity, which while now merged in administration, have different traditions, and have historically operated to different doctrines, although this dualism is increasingly being set aside so there is one coherent body of law rationalized around common principles of law.
- Administrative Law
- Civil rights
- Disability Law
- International Law
- Law enforcement
- Legal processes
- Martial Law
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