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In Quebec, there are significant differences between civil cases and criminal cases. Discerning all the specifics of each form of litigation is sometimes difficult.

Discover the main differences between these two types of legal proceedings.

The focus of the proceedings: a difference that affects the nature of a trial

The focus of the proceedings is one of the first significant differences in a civil or criminal case. Depending on whether the complaint involves a civil conflict (inheritance issues, divorce, etc.) or a criminal matter (assault, murder, sexual assault, etc.), the nature of the trial will be different.

Civil cases

In civil proceedings, the civil liability of the accused is the focus of the proceedings. The trial then takes place before the Civil Division of the Court of Québec and it is the judge’s responsibility to deliver a verdict based on the assessments made in relation to the circumstances of the conflict. If the judge upholds the victim’s case, the person or company responsible for the dispute will be required to compensate the victim for the harm caused.

Criminal cases

In a criminal proceeding, the crime allegedly committed by the accused is the focus of the prosecution and the prosecutor will be none other than the government. The latter is represented by the criminal and penal prosecutor throughout the judicial process.

In this case, the trial is held before the Criminal and Penal Division of the Court of Québec. If the final verdict is in favour of the plaintiff after all the evidence has been examined by the judge, the penalties incurred by the accused(s) can be much more severe than in a civil trial.

The limitation period: the law is not the same in civil and criminal cases

A limitation period is defined as the period beyond which a civil or criminal lawsuit is no longer admissible.

In civil litigation, limitation periods vary depending on the reason for the lawsuit. However, a period of 10 years is provided by law when physical harm is inflicted and the act is tantamount to a criminal offence. In cases of sexual assault and domestic violence, the limitation period is 30 years.

As for criminal cases, there is no limitation period. A person can therefore be charged with committing a crime for the purpose of prosecuting him or her without time limits. In contrast, for crimes “punishable on summary conviction“, the time limit is 6 months.

Burden of proof: less proof required in civil cases than in criminal cases

The burden of proof is also one of the elements that differs between civil and criminal proceedings.

In the first case, the outcome of the prosecution will favour the person who appears to be the most convincing. It is therefore a question of “balance of probabilities” also called “balance of evidence”. In other words, the person suffering damage must prove that there is a greater chance that his version of the facts is true than the other party’s version.

On the other hand, a person suspected of having committed a Criminal Code offence is always considered innocent until proven guilty. For this reason, the party prosecuting the accused in a criminal trial must succeed in proving, “beyond a reasonable doubt”, that the accused is guilty. If this is the case, several penalties may be applied, such as imprisonment or house arrest, community service, payment of a fine, compliance with probation or curfew.

Trust a lawyer to recognize the differences between a civil or criminal case

As you can see, in Quebec, these two types of trials do not have the same legal scope or the same consequences for the accused.

If you are prosecuted, whether in the civil or criminal sphere, it is important to hire a lawyer to defend you. During a trial, the lawyer will be able to assert your rights and highlight the laws related to your situation.

Do not hesitate to contact the DUI Montreal Lawyer law firm. Our lawyers can represent you effectively and will be at your disposal throughout the entire judicial process.