Things you need to know about criminal and civil offences

By Esther Muhozi
On 23 October 2023 at 11:28

With a subject as vast and comprehensive as the Rwandan legal system, it can get difficult to understand the distinctions between civil and criminal law properly. These two unique bodies of law both serve to deter or punish wrongdoing in Rwanda . However, that’s generally where their criminal cases are prosecuted by the public prosecutor, law is designed to protect the public and general society from offensive wrongdoings such as murder, drunk driving, battery, theft, or arson.

Alternatively, civil cases arise when one party initiates a claim for damages against another party or parties. One of the more prevalent areas of civil law is negligence (or personal injury) law.

People can sue in civil court for claims such as wrongful death, breach of contract, defamation, trespass to property, and negligence, as mentioned above.

But this information merely scratches the surface. Keep reading to learn more about the many differences between civil and criminal law.

To grasp the differences between civil and criminal law in Rwanda, it’s crucial to delve deeper into specific aspects of these legal domains:

Case Filings – Plaintiff and Defendants

In civil cases, attorneys represent a private party, known as the plaintiff, who initiates the claim.

The defendant in a civil case is the party against whom the plaintiff brings the claim. In criminal cases, the public prosecutor prosecutes the party alleged to have committed the criminal offense, and this party is also referred to as the defendant.

Burden of Proof

In civil court, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, who must demonstrate their case by a "preponderance of the evidence" (over 50% likelihood). Criminal cases require the government to prove charges "beyond a reasonable doubt," a higher standard of proof indicating no other logical explanation for the defendant’s actions.

Methods of Punishment

In civil suits, compensation typically takes the form of monetary or property restitution.
Criminal convictions may result in fines, imprisonment, or, for severe felonies, the death penalty.

Statute of Limitations

Both civil and criminal cases are subject to limitations on the time allowed for filing claims or pressing charges, varying by the Country

When Civil and Criminal Courts Overlap

Instances where civil and criminal courts overlap are not uncommon. For example, a defendant accused of battery resulting in permanent personal injury may face both criminal charges and a civil suit for damages. It’s important to note that court rulings are not mutually exclusive; an acquittal in criminal court does not preclude liability in civil litigation. In most cases the criminal case overrules.

Understanding the distinctions between civil and criminal law is essential for navigating the Rwandan legal system effectively. While both serve the purpose of addressing wrongful acts, they differ in their approach, objectives, and procedures.

Whether your case belongs in civil or criminal court, or potentially both, seeking legal counsel from an experienced attorney specialized in the relevant area of law is crucial to ensure a fair and just resolution.