What is the difference between Civil & Criminal Liability Evaporating?

The Concept of Liability is an important tool to the Court of Law for the administration of justice because it talks about distribution of burdens. Salmond says that liability arises out of a breach of a legal duty. It is a remedy for wrong. Therefore, we have to find out the kinds of wrongs for which law provides remedies. On this context we have to distinguish between Civil justice and Criminal Justice.

Civil Liability

In Civil Liability, law provides for remedy in the nature of compensation or by way of specific relief. Aristotle says that when we have distributed the rights and duties and one breaches, he has disturbed the balance. Therefore, justice has to be done by providing relief to restore the status quo. The objective of Civil Liability is not to punish the guilty but to restore losses.

Civil Justice can be done in two ways: –

1. Specific relief/Performance- Specific performance restores the status quo and also there is specific action for that.
Example- Mr. X buys a flat but he doesn’t receive the key for a month. So, specific action will be to give him the key, i.e. bring him back to the position where he would have been if the breach hadn’t occurred.

2. Compensation for Damage

It means to compensate for the damage caused to someone.
Example: – In an accident, Mr. X losses his limb. In this case he cannot be returned to his original positon, that is the position he would have been in had there were no accident. Therefore, the Court n such cases instructs to give substituted relief in the form of compensation.

Administration of Civil Justice– In Civil justice party who is wronged lead and give evidence and court is just an umpire. It is initiated and controlled by party.

Changes in Administration of Civil Justice in Recent Times

Rookes v Barnard and others [1964] UKHL 1, [1964] AC 1129
This is the first case of exemplary damages. In this case, House of Lords held that in case of “blameworthy damages”, Court in addition to ordinary damage, will also provide punitive/exemplary damages.
This case was the first case of providing aggravated damages. Administration of Civil Justice went through a drastic change. Penal damage was given but the money did not go to the State treasury but to the plaintiff but in Criminal Law, penalty goes to the treasury of the State.
Today, Exemplary damages are given for the violation of Fundamental Right of Article 21 also.

Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar, (1983) 4 SCC 141
This was the first case in which the Supreme Court of India recognized the power of Court to grant aggravated damages.
In this case, Mr. Rudul Shah was imprisoned for 13 years for no wrong. After 13 years, Mr. Rudul Shah himself filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus and when the Bihar Administration realized that they had no defence at all, they immediately released him. When the hearing began for the Writ of Habeas Corpus, The State urged that since he has already been released, there was no point in continuing it. However, the Supreme Court also examined the Writ in which it was urged by the petitioner that some compensation must be provided to him for flagrant deprivation of his Fundamental Right of Article 21.

Hon’ble Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud mentioned that in fit and proper cases, it would be open to the Supreme Court to impose some kind of a fine upon the individual or upon his vindictive behavior with which he has violated Fundamental right of an individual. He said that of the ways to ensure Fundamental Rights is by imposing fine on an individual who has violated Fundamental Right of others.
Further, in Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa 1993 (2) SCC 746; AIR 1993 SC 1960, [1993]2SCR581, the Supreme Court made it clear that the remedy of compensation under Article 32 was in addition and not derogation of the remedy of Civil suit filed in Civil Courts.

However, compensation is not provided in all cases of Fundamental Rights violation but only in cases of flagrant derivation, i.e. only when violation of Fundamental Rights is accompanied by vindictive behaviour. Therefore, from these two cases it is evident that Civil Justice has started recognizing penal damages.

Criminal Justice

Unlike Civil Justice, the object of Criminal justice is to punish the guilty.
Administration of Criminal Law
Criminal Law is State controlled and not party controlled. In such cases, it is the responsibility of the prosecution to contest and prove that a person is guilty.
In Cognizable cases, police themselves can take cognizance of the offence, doesn’t have to wait for the Criminal Law to be set in motion.

In certain exceptional cases i.e. Non-Cognizable cases, Criminal Law is set on motion by complaint of an individual and even after that it is state controlled.
Changes in Criminal Justice over Time
Earlier Criminal Justice was only focused on rights/interests/duties of defendant and the plaintiff was left unattended. People wanted a shift in focus to the recognition of redressing of the victims as well.

Therefore, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) was amended to give power to the Magistrate to give compensation to the victims. This was done under Section 354 of CrPC.

In Rape cases also a similar practice is being adopted. In Chairman Railway Board V. Chandrima Das (2000) 2 SCC 465, the Court gave compensation to the Victim.
But the Question that arises is that who will give this Compensation, i.e. is this the obligation of the State or individual?
Now, by amending the CrPC, delinking has been done with regard to the person who has committed the crime. It has been decided that no matter who has done the wrong, the victim needs to be compensated. There has been a shift of focus to Criminal Justice to victims also.

Is the Difference between Civil & Criminal Liability Evaporating?

In today’s era the line of difference between Civil & Criminal Liability has no doubt dissolved to a considerate extent. Civil Liability has started awarding exemplary damages in special cases where there was a violation of Fundamental Rights accompanied by malicious behaviour, which means penal damages are being recognized by Civil Justice.

On the other hand, earlier, Criminal Liability was focussed more on the rights/interests and duties of defendant. Presently, there has been a shift in focus to rehabilitation of victims in the form of compensation. These changes have no doubt omitted the line of difference between Civil Liability and Criminal Liability up to considerate length.


Author- Dishani Bakshi
Intern at Law Portal
Email- dishanibakshi@gmail.com

1st Year, MNLU, Nagpur.

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