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LAW: What makes an act a criminal, as opposed to a civil, offence?

It seems that criminal offences are those against the 'state'/society more broadly, whereas civil offences are those considered to be more individual. But, surely many criminal offences are equally individual, and many civil offences affect society more broadly?
Can anyone please explain how it is decided whether an act is criminal or civil as I'm super confused. Thank you!
Original post by Moist Towelette
It seems that criminal offences are those against the 'state'/society more broadly, whereas civil offences are those considered to be more individual. But, surely many criminal offences are equally individual, and many civil offences affect society more broadly?
Can anyone please explain how it is decided whether an act is criminal or civil as I'm super confused. Thank you!

Essentially a criminal offence is something for which the State can or will take action against you (i.e. by prosecuting you). Actions are (generally speaking) made criminal offences where they pose a risk to society as a whole (e.g. violent offences). The punishment is often a fine, a prison sentence, community service, etc.

On the other hand, a civil offence is something for which an individual or organisation can take action against you. Actions are (generally speaking) a civil matter where they affect rights or property; civil law in general is about settling disputes rather than punishing people. They usually (but not always) involve compensation or some other financial settlement.

Do note that a number of criminal offences are also civil offences. Examples include assault, battery, etc. Therefore, a person may be prosecuted by the State for having hurt someone (engaged in violence contrary to the State's wish to maintain the peace) and may also face a civil action from the person they hurt (in order to claim compensation for the hurt they suffered).

I hope this helps!
Original post by CatusStarbright
Essentially a criminal offence is something for which the State can or will take action against you (i.e. by prosecuting you). Actions are (generally speaking) made criminal offences where they pose a risk to society as a whole (e.g. violent offences). The punishment is often a fine, a prison sentence, community service, etc.

On the other hand, a civil offence is something for which an individual or organisation can take action against you. Actions are (generally speaking) a civil matter where they affect rights or property; civil law in general is about settling disputes rather than punishing people. They usually (but not always) involve compensation or some other financial settlement.

Do note that a number of criminal offences are also civil offences. Examples include assault, battery, etc. Therefore, a person may be prosecuted by the State for having hurt someone (engaged in violence contrary to the State's wish to maintain the peace) and may also face a civil action from the person they hurt (in order to claim compensation for the hurt they suffered).

I hope this helps!

Thank you for your answer! What I don't understand, though, is that surely many criminal offences (e.g. theft) only pose a risk to individuals, and many civil offences may pose great risk to society as a whole (e.g. If a large company has not been honouring contracts - this might cause social damage due to 1.) the direct effects of such actions, and 2.) a broader loss of security/confidence for all contract-holders).

Have I misunderstood something, and are there any other criteria which may determine whether something is classified as a criminal or civil offence?
Original post by Moist Towelette
Thank you for your answer! What I don't understand, though, is that surely many criminal offences (e.g. theft) only pose a risk to individuals, and many civil offences may pose great risk to society as a whole (e.g. If a large company has not been honouring contracts - this might cause social damage due to 1.) the direct effects of such actions, and 2.) a broader loss of security/confidence for all contract-holders).

Have I misunderstood something, and are there any other criteria which may determine whether something is classified as a criminal or civil offence?

I think it essentially boils down to criminal processes being about the State maintaining law and order, with the aim being to punish and deter. Civil processes, on the other hand, are a means to seek compensation/redress for a loss you have suffered and generally deal with disputes.

The State only gets involved in civil processes insofar as providing civil court to essentially settle disputes between individuals/organisations peaceably. Otherwise, it is not interested in what it considers private affairs. In the example you give here, you discuss a contractual issue - contracts are just agreements between private individuals/bodies.

I suppose I am suggesting that whether the State decides to make something a criminal offence or not depends on whether it deems its intervention to be necessary. If the individual/company the large company in your example contracts with has a means of seeking compensation (the civil courts), is it really necessary for the State to also impose a punishment? Would this not be a form of governmental overreach? Would it not also potentially take up a lot of resources in bringing the prosecution, at a time when public finances are already stretched thin?

I imagine this would make an excellent seminar/class discussion!

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