The Difference Between Civil And Criminal Litigation

A civil matter is between two individuals.

An individual can be either a person, a corporation, or a government agency. When one individual has wronged another individual and caused damages, those damages can be recovered through a civil action known as a lawsuit.

A criminal matter, however, is not between two individuals. It’s between the state and one person who has broken the law. We have a code of conduct set out in the Criminal Code that regulates the limits of our activity and if you have committed an offence which is described in the Criminal Code of Canada, then it is a criminal offence and you are criminally charged. The state has a responsibility to try and punish someone when they’ve committed a criminal act.

An example of the difference between the two is if one person damages the property of another; it’s a criminal offence and the person can be punished by the state for the act that caused the damage. The other person can also sue the individual in a civil action to recover the cost of the damages.

In a civil action, each person will have their own lawyer to represent their interest. In a criminal case, however, the accused person will have his or her own lawyer, but the interest of the state will be represented by the Crown Attorney.


If you, or someone you care about, is dealing with criminal law issues in the Newmarket, Ontario Region, contact Hobson & Reeve Barrsiters for a consultation.

This article is taken from a May, 2009 interview with Dennis Reeve, Criminal Lawyer with Hobson & Reeve Barristers, an Newmarket, Ontario Criminal Law Firm. Note that laws vary from province to province. Please consult with a lawyer in your own area to be sure of the laws and specific issues in your own jurisdiction.