Differences between Civil vs Criminal Law in Australia

Navigating the legal system: Differences between Civil vs Criminal Law in Australia

The legal system in Australia is divided into two main branches: civil law and criminal law. In this article we shall explore the differences between Civil vs Criminal Law in Australia

How Civil Law handles disputes between individuals and organisations

Civil law handles disputes between individuals or organisations. These disputes can cover a wide range of issues.

Our lawyers specialise in some of the following civil law services:

The main objective of civil law is to provide a remedy to the person who has been wronged.

In a civil case, the person bringing the claim, the plaintiff, must prove their case on the balance of probabilities’ (Click here to read our brief explainer on this term). This means that it is more likely than not that their version of events is true.

The purpose and consequences of Criminal Law

A crime is a wrong punishable by the state.

A crime generally involves both an actus reus (guilty act) and mens rea (guilty mind).

However, where the offence is one of strict or absolute liability, there is no need to prove mens rea. Subject to limited statutory exceptions, the prosecution must prove ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ that a specific crime has been committed before the offender can be convicted.

Criminal law deals with actions against those who commit crimes. Criminal offences include things such as murder, theft, and drug trafficking.

Our lawyers specialise in some of the following criminal law services:

The main objective of criminal law is to punish the offender and deter others from committing similar crimes.

The State’s role in civil vs criminal law cases

An important difference between civil and criminal law is the role of the state.

In civil cases, the state is not a party to the dispute, and the case is brought by one individual or organisation against another. However, a civil case can also be brought against law enforcement or the state for damages or violations of rights.

In criminal cases, the state brings the charges against the defendant. This means that the state, through the police and the prosecution, carries out the investigation and brings the case to trial. The state is the prosecutor in criminal cases, and the defendant is facing penalties such as imprisonment or fines.

Differences in Remedies and Punishments for Civil vs Criminal Law

Another significant difference is the nature of the remedy or punishment.

In a civil case, the remedy is usually financial compensation or a specific action, such as returning property.

In a criminal case, the punishment can be imprisonment, fines, or community service.

Simultaneous Civil and Criminal Charges

Can a person be charged with both civil and criminal offences for the same conduct? YES!

For example, if a person causes a car accident while driving under the influence, they can face charges of criminal offences for drink driving. However they can also face a lawsuit in a civil court for damages by the other driver.

These two cases are separate and the outcome of one does not affect the outcome of the other. The person may be found guilty in the criminal case and not liable in the civil case or vice versa.

Navigating the legal system

If you are facing legal issues, it is important to consult with an experienced lawyer to understand which branch of law applies to your case and to ensure that your rights are protected.

Our lawyers have the experience and knowledge to guide you through the legal process for either criminal or civil law.

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Nicole Byrne

Content Creator | Media Coordinator
O'Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors


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Nicole Byrne
Nicole Byrne Content Creator | Media Coordinator O'Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors www.obriensolicitors.com.au

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O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors
p: 02 9261 4281
a: Level 4, 219-223 Castlereagh St,
Sydney NSW 2000

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