Civil law is a major "branch of the law", for example in common law legal systems such as those in England and Wales and in the United States, where it stands in contrast to criminal law.[1][2] The law relating to civil wrongs and quasi-contracts is part of the civil law,[3] as is law of property (other than property-related crimes, such as theft or vandalism).[4] Civil law may, like criminal law, be divided into substantive law and procedural law.[5] The rights and duties of persons (natural persons and legal persons) amongst themselves is the primary concern of civil law.[6][7] The common law is today as fertile a source for theoretical inquiry as it has ever been. Around the English-speaking world, many scholars of law, philosophy, politics, and history study the theoretical foundations and applications of the common law. [8]

The common law system, which originated in medieval England, is often contrasted with the civil law legal system originating in France and Italy. Whereas the civil law takes the form of legal codes such as the Napoleonic code, the common law comes from uncodified case law that arises as a result of judicial decisions, recognising prior court decisions as legally binding precedent.[9] When used in the context of a common law legal system, the term civil law means that branch of the law not including criminal law.[1][2]

Civil litigation refers to legal proceedings undertaken to resolve a dispute rewarding an alleged civil wrong and seeking redress or payment of damages. It includes the process of one party notifying the other that they have a cause for action.[10] It is often suggested that civil litigation proceedings are undertaken for the purpose of obtaining compensation for injury, and may thus be distinguished from criminal proceedings, whose purpose is to inflict punishment. However, exemplary damages or punitive damages may be awarded in civil proceedings. It was also formerly possible for common informers to sue for a penalty in civil proceedings.[11]

Because some courts have both a civil and criminal jurisdiction, civil proceedings cannot be defined as those taken in civil courts.[12] In the United States, the expression "civil courts" is used as a shorthand for "trial courts in civil cases".[13][14] In England and other common-law countries, the burden of proof in civil proceedings is, in general—with a number of exceptions such as committal proceedings for civil contempt—proof on a balance of probabilities.[15] In civil cases in the law of the Maldives, the burden of proof requires the plaintiff to convince the court of the plaintiff's entitlement to the relief sought. This means that the plaintiff must prove each element of the claim, or cause of action in order to recover.[16]

The cost of pursuing civil litigation has sometimes been highlighted as excessive relative to the scale of the issue to be resolved. Where costs are too high, they can restrict access to justice.[17]

See also


  1. ^ a b Glanville Williams. Learning the Law. Eleventh Edition. Stevens. 1982. p. 2.
  2. ^ a b W J Stewart and Robert Burgess. Collins Dictionary of Law. HarperCollins Publishers. 1996. ISBN 0 00 470009 0. Page 68. Definition 4 of "civil law".
  3. ^ Glanville Williams. Learning the Law. Eleventh Edition. Stevens. 1982. pp. 2 and 9 and 10
  4. ^ Card, Richard. Card, Cross and Jones: Criminal Law. Twelfth Edition. Butterworths. 1992. Paragraph 1.3 at page 1.
  5. ^ Glanville Williams. Learning the Law. Eleventh Edition. Stevens. 1982. p. 19.
  6. ^ Card, Richard. Card, Cross and Jones: Criminal Law. Twelfth Edition. Butterworths. 1992. Paragraph 1.2 at page 1.
  7. ^ "Civil law definition and meaning". Collins. Retrieved 19 July 2022.
  8. ^ Edlin, Douglas E. (2007-10-22). Common Law Theory (1 ed.). Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511551116.001. ISBN 978-0-521-84642-4.
  9. ^ Husa, Jaakko (2016-05-02). "The Future of Legal Families". Oxford Handbook Topics in Law. Vol. 1. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935352.013.26. ISBN 978-0-19-993535-2.
  10. ^ Somji, Q., What is civil litigation?, Witan Solicitors, published 3 December 2021, accessed 9 December 2023
  11. ^ Owen Hood Phillips, A First Book of English Law, Fourth Edition. Sweet & Maxwell. 1960. pp 208 & 209
  12. ^ Owen Hood Phillips. A First Book of English Law. Fourth Edition. Sweet & Maxwell. 1960. p 208.
  13. ^ Baum, Lawrence. American Courts: Process and Policy. Seventh Edition. Cengage Learning. 2012. Chapter 7. p 139.
  14. ^ Anton, Peter. "Law". Retrieved 13 August 2021.
  15. ^ Keane and McKeown. The Modern Law of Evidence. Ninth Edition. Oxford University Press. 2012. ISBN 9780199698325. p 108.
  16. ^ Husnu Al Suood. The Maldivian Legal System. Maldives Law Institute. 2014. p 214.
  17. ^ Jackson, R. (2010), Review of Civil Litigation Costs: Final Report, "Foreword", published by TSO (The Stationery Office), archived on 15 February 2010, accessed 9 December 2023. See Review of Civil Litigation Costs