Comparison of Litigation Terminology in Civil Law and Criminal Law

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Litigation terminology differences in Civil Law and Criminal Law

Translating legal English requires an acute knowledge of the terminology respective to the distinct systems. The Common law system used in the UK and the US breaks down into Civil and Criminal law. Each has its own separate laws, consequences, and respective terminology.

Civil law aims to resolve disputes between two private parties, where the liable party (the person who did something wrong) must remedy a wrong that she has done to the plaintiff (the person to whom the wrong has been done). The remedy, which is referred to as damages, is usually in the form of money which is deemed to equal the amount of damage caused. Tort law and Contract law fall under Civil law. The damage (which should be causally related to the civil wrong) occurs as a result of a breach of duty of care (a reasonable man’s responsibility to avoid acts that cause harm to others) or of a contract. Civil law covers property, landlord/tenant, personal injury disputes, or any dispute arising from damage that was caused by a person’s negligent act.

Criminal law, on the other hand, addresses cases between the government (public prosecutor) and the criminal, the aim of which is to convict the defendant for a crime committed. Punishment is usually in the form of imprisonment and, in some places, death. Crimes dealt with in criminal law include murder, rape, theft, trafficking controlled substances, and more hardcore events that affect society as a whole.

As we see, the systems have different actors, situations and, accordingly, terminology. Below is a comparison of terms that you should consider when translating litigation:

Civil Law Criminal Law
Plaintiff/Claimant (England and Wales) / Appellant Prosecutor/ Complainant
Defendant/Respondent Defendant
Damage/Injury Crime
Damages/Remedy Punishment
Liable/Not liable Guilty/Acquitted
Ordered to Sentenced to
Judgment Verdict
Balance of probabilities Beyond a reasonable doubt
Civil wrong Crime
Aggrieved/Injured Party Victim
To sue/ bring an action against To prosecute/bring a case against


There are other terms that are unique to one or the other system and do not have a corresponding equivalence in the other. What other differences or similarities in the systems are you interested in hearing about? Let me know and I’ll share my knowledge on a later blog post!

Maeva Cifuentes

About Maeva Cifuentes

Content marketer and translator. I help brands increase their organic reach with a cohesive, SEO-led content marketing strategy. Let's talk blogging for business!

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