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Differences Between Criminal Law and Civil Law: A Guideline

Criminal Law and Civil Law

Law, as an integral part of society, plays a crucial role in regulating and maintaining order, security, and justice in a society. In the field of law, two fundamental branches exist: criminal law and civil law. Explore this brief guide to understand the fundamental concepts behind these two legal domains, which is important for everyone, especially those new to the world of legal.

What is Criminal Law and Civil Law?

Criminal law is a branch of law regulating actions prohibited by the state and subject to criminal sanctions. The aim is to safeguard public interests i.e., public safety and order. In contrast, civil law regulates relationships between individuals based on rights and obligations, with the aim of protecting individual interests—specifically individual rights and obligations. Criminal law pertains to actions against the law that harm public interests and jeopardize public safety. Meanwhile, civil law addresses legal relationships between individuals, such as contracts, leases, marriages, and inheritances.

Understanding the fundamental differences between criminal law and civil law is essential to comprehending how these areas of law operate in society.

In criminal law, it is the State that protects public interest by enforcing criminal law through its organs, such as the police and public prosecutors. Meanwhile, in civil law, it is the individuals (natural or legal persons) who protect their own personal interest when their rights are infringed by other parties, by seeking settlement through enforcing civil procedural law.

Criminal Law and Civil Law

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Sanctions in Criminal Law and Civil Law

Criminal law and civil law exhibit fundamental differences, notably in the sanctions imposed. Criminal sanctions are applied in response to criminal acts deemed detrimental to society. Criminal sanctions take various forms, such as imprisonment, fines, and short-term confinement. Imprisonment serves to isolate offenders for a specified period, while fines emphasize financial responsibility. Short-term confinement entails a short prison sentence. The importance of criminal sanctions lies in their punitive approach, which focuses on retribution, crime prevention, and the restoration of public order.

In contrast, civil sanctions are more restorative than punitive. In the context of civil law, the sanctions focus on restoring rights or providing financial compensation to the injured party.

Fictional Case Examples

Criminal Law: A man named R is proven to have stolen valuable jewelry from a renowned jewelry store. Following an investigation, the public prosecutor charges R with theft. In the trial, the judge imposes a criminal sanction—a one-year prison sentence—due to the substantial value of the stolen jewelry. This criminal punishment aims to protect society from the offender and to deter other people, including R himself, from committing such a crime.

Civil Law: Imagine a situation where two neighbors, A and B, have a dispute over the boundaries of their property. A believes that B has encroached on a part of his land and erected a fence on land that rightfully belongs to him. To resolve this dispute, A files a civil lawsuit. The court orders B to dismantle the erected fence on A’s land and provide financial compensation to A as restitution. In this case, civil law is utilized to restore A’s property rights and ensure justice between the two neighbors.

Below is a table of differences between criminal law and civil law for easier understanding:

Aspect Criminal Law Civil Law
Main Focus Protecting public interests Protecting individual interests
Scope Actions against the law harming public interests Legal relationships between individuals
Sanctions Criminal penalties (imprisonment, fines, etc.) Compensation (material and immaterial)


To comprehend the differences between criminal law and civil law, ADCO Law stands ready to be your legal partner. If you have questions or are seeking further consultation, do not hesitate to contact us. ADCO Law—a legal solution tailored to your needs.


About ADCO Law:

ADCO Law is a firm that offers clients a wide range of integrated legal services, including in commercial transactions and corporate disputes in a variety of industry sectors. Over the course of more than a decade, we have grown to understand our client’s industry and business as well as the regulatory aspect. In dealing with business dynamics, we provide comprehensive solid legal advice and solutions to minimize legal and business risks.

ADCO Law is a Proud Member of the Alliott Global Alliance (AGA) in Indonesia. Founded in 1979, AGA is one of the largest and fastest-growing global multidisciplinary alliances, with 215 member firms in 95 countries.

As a law firm, we also believe in regeneration. To stay abreast of business changes and stay relevant, our formation of lawyers is comprised of the top graduates from Indonesian and international law schools.

Should you have more queries regarding this matter, please do not hesitate to contact us


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Disclaimer: This article has been prepared for scientific reading and marketing purposes only from ADCO Law. Accordingly, all the writings contained herein do not constitute the formal legal opinion of ADCO Law. Therefore, ADCO Law should be held harmless of and/or cannot be held responsible for anything performed by entities who use this writing outside the purposes of ADCO Law.