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Overview of Civil Law

The term civil law has been derived from the word “jus civile”. It is the system of law or a body that mentions rules and regulations to deal with the rights and obligations of parties who have formed a legal relationship between them. It primarily focuses on legal relations between two or more parties and most of the laws are codified.

Features of Civil Law

There are several features of civil law that are as follows:

  • Civil law contains provisions governing the private rights of individuals. Such laws are applicable when there is a dispute between two or more parties, or entities with regard to the breach of agreed terms and conditions by either party under a legal relationship. A civil law is enacted for the main purpose of:
  1. Protecting the rights of an individual,
  2. Availability of effective remedy in case the right of a person has been violated.
  • Mostly all civil laws are codified laws. The laws contain a number of provisions to govern all types of possible disputes arising out of a legal relationship.
  • Whenever a person commits a civil wrong, civil law imposes civil liability on the opposite party. The party who has committed the wrong needs to pay compensation for the damage caused to the aggrieved party.
  • The applicability of civil laws depends on the citizens, territory, etc.

Branches of Civil Law

There are a lot of branches of civil law. It covers a lot of disputes related to the rights and liabilities of people living in the country. Some of the branches of the civil law are as follows:

Contract Law

The laws made for legal contracts contain provisions governing and interpreting a contract where the parties to a contract mutually agree to sell or purchase goods or services, property, etc. the contract law not only defines the rights and liabilities of parties to the contract but also provides the sufficient remedy to party who has been aggrieved from the act of another party. The Act also defines the available remedies that can be availed by the parties.

In India, the Indian Contract Act of 1872 governs contracts. A contract is defined as an agreement which is legally enforceable by law. This definition has been mentioned under Section 2(h) of the Act. The Act defines what contracts are void, valid and voidable. The Act covers different types of contracts such as contracts of indemnity, guarantee, agency, bailment, etc.

Property Law

The property laws in India define who is the rightful owner or has possession of property. It defines the rights and duties of people on the use or transfer of the property along with following all the reasonable restrictions defined in the statutes. As per the Acts, there are 2 types of property, real and personal property. A personable property is one that can be moveable such as a vehicle, precious jewels, stocks, furniture, etc or that be tangible or intangible such as copyright, trademark, know-how, etc. Real property includes all the immovable properties such as buildings, land, etc.

The prevailing statutes governing property laws in India are the Indian Contract Act of 1872, the Transfer of Property Act of 1882, the Indian Easement Right of 1882, etc.

Family Law

The law which governs the matters related to people in a family is called family law. The law defines the rights and obligations of people over matters related to child custody, maintenance, marriage, divorce, adoption, etc.

In India, there are personal laws of parties that govern their family matters. For people belonging to the Hindu community, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 is there, for Christians, the Indian Christian Marriage Act of 1872 is there, etc.

Tort Law

A person who has committed a civil wrong resulting in harm or injury to another person or property is said to have committed a tortious act. Under tort law, a person aggrieved by the act of another can claim damages for the injury suffered to him or the property. The law of tort is an uncodified law. Some examples of tort law are negligence, trespass, etc.

Corporate Law

The law which covers the rights, responsibilities and functioning of corporate entities (companies) is called corporate law. The law contains provisions with regard to the formation, investments, combinations and winding up of a company. The prevailing statutes governing companies include the Companies Act of 2013, the Sale of Goods Act of 1930 and the Indian Partnership Act of 1932, etc.

Administrative Law

This law is an uncodified law. The law defines the powers, rights and obligations of the administrative bodies in India. The law is related to the executive branch of the Indian government. To solve matters concerning administrative actions, there have been separate tribunals established to solve disputes.

Types of cases decided under Civil Law

Broadly, there are 4 types of cases which are decided by the courts in civil matters. These are as follows:

Tort claims

As tort is a civil wrong, a person who harms another person or damages his/her property is said to commit the tortious act. An aggrieved party can claim damages under tort based on:

  • Negligence: A party is said to be negligent when he/she commits unintentional damage or causes injury to another, or
  • Intentional: When a person knowingly causes injury or damage to a person or property, or
  • Strict liability: Under this, a person is strictly liable to pay compensation in case he/she has caused injury to another as the result of not keeping the hazardous thing safe and the same has escaped and caused the harm.

Some of the tort claims include:

  • Negligence on the part of a professional,
  • Trespass to property or person,
  • Attack on animals,
  • Defamation (Libel or slander), etc.

Contractual breach claims

Whenever a party to the contract refuses to perform his/her part of the contractual liability, then the other party to the contract approaches the court to seek specific performance or damages for loss. A few examples of contractual breach claims include:

  • Matters related to property disputes,
  • Sale of a faulty product,
  • Non-payment of money on time,
  • Breach of contractual terms, etc.

Equitable claims

An equitable claim is also known as an injunction suit. Under equitable claim, the court orders a person to stop performing an action rather than paying compensation in the form of money for a specific time period or for perpetuity. In this type of claim, the court may order the opposite party to:

  • Abstain from doing an act, or
  • Change the method to perform an act, etc.

Class action claims

A class action suit is filed by a group of people who have been aggrieved by the act of the opposite party. These claims are generally filed by people against the entities. A person can file a class action suit when:

  • A company has sold some harmful products, or
  • When a person or entity has defrauded a group of people,
  • The act performed in a factory has caused harm to a group of people living near the factory, etc.

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Reliefs and remedies under Civil Law

The sole purpose of filing a civil suit is to restore the rights of the party whose rights have been violated. The restoration can be done with the help of several available remedies and relief to be provided to the aggrieved. Such relief is provided by the competent court or tribunal having jurisdiction to entertain the matter as per the prevailing laws in India.

In general, there are 4 types of remedies available to an aggrieved party under civil law. These are – specific performance, injunction, declaration, and monetary compensation.

Monetary relief

Monetary relief involves payment of monetary compensation to the aggrieved person who has suffered loss from the act of the defendant. Monetary relief involves payment of compensatory damages, nominal damages, liquidated damages, consequential damages, incidental damages, etc.

Specific performance

The enforcement of civil liability on the defendant which he/she has failed to perform is called Specific performance of the contract. Under this remedy, the court orders the defendant to perform his/her part of the obligation that he/she failed to perform. Such failure to perform was the reason to file the suit. This remedy is often provided to parties who have formed contracts and one party has refused to perform his/her part.

Injunction

It is the relief where the defendant is prohibited from doing a particular act. An injunction can be either temporary or permanent in nature. An interim injunction is passed and remains in effect till the matter is pending before the court whereas, in the case of a permanent injunction, the party is prohibited from doing an act for perpetuity.

Declarations

Under this remedy, the court defines a person’s right over the movable or immovable party. Once the court’s decision has been made, it becomes binding for the whole world. A declaration is made where the court defines the rights and liabilities of the parties to the suit. Under this, the court does not order a party to pay compensation or perform any specific task, but it merely defines the rights and liabilities of the parties to the suit.

Hierarchy of Civil Courts in India

Under civil law in India, there is a hierarchy of courts with specific powers and authority to deal with matters in India. In the hierarchy of courts, the Supreme Court is the apex court. The hierarchy has been set as per the territory and monetary jurisdiction of the courts. Monetary jurisdiction is the pecuniary value of the amount involved in the disputed case.

Supreme Court of India

It is the apex court of India and is considered the guardian of the Indian Constitution. In matters related to civil law, the Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction under which the court accepts appeals from parties involved in civil suits. The decision passed by the Supreme Court is final and binding on both parties to the suit as it has been passed by the highest authority in the hierarchy.

High Courts

The High Court is ranked below the Supreme Court in the hierarchy. These courts are established in all states of India. The Court has the authority to solve civil matters having a pecuniary value of Rs. 20 lakhs.

District Courts

A district court is below the High Court under the hierarchy of courts in India. These courts have the power to entertain civil matters having a monetary value of less than Rs. 20 lakhs but more than Rs. 3 lakhs. District courts are established in every district.

Lower Courts

These courts are below the district court and are called munsif and small cause courts. These are the lowest courts in the hierarchy of courts in India. These courts have the authority to deal with matters having a monetary value of less than Rs. 3 lakhs.

There are other civil courts in India which deal with civil matters such as family courts, tribunals and consumer courts, etc.

Difference between Civil Law and Criminal Law

There is a clear difference between civil and criminal law. It is as follows:

  1. Civil law governs the duties and rights of parties arising out of a legal relationship between two parties or entities whereas criminal law governs the actions of an individual which affects society in a negative manner.
  2. The main purpose of civil law is to protect the rights of an individual and provide them compensation in case of violation whereas the main purpose of criminal law is to punish the offenders and maintain peace and order in society.
  3. In civil law, the suit is filed by the plaintiff who has been aggrieved and in case of criminal law, the government usually files the case.
  4. The plaintiff files a suit before the civil courts or tribunals in civil law whereas, in criminal law, the party approaches the criminal court to file a case.
  5. In civil suits, the final decision will either make the defendant liable or set him free whereas in cases of criminal complaints, the accused can be either convicted or acquitted.
  6. The desired outcome in a civil suit is the civil remedy, i.e., compensation, an injunction (permanent and temporary) whereas, in the case of criminal law, the remedy is imprisonment or fine to the convicted person.
  7. The procedural law in India is the Code of Civil Procedure of 1908 for civil law. The procedural law in India is the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973 for criminal law.
  8. In civil law, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant has committed a civil wrong. In criminal law, the prosecution is under an obligation to prove that the offender is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.
  9. In civil law, the matters are cases of negligence, marriage, disputes related to property, etc. The matters are murder, rape, dacoity, etc in criminal law.

Frequently Asked Questions

India is not a civil law country. Rather, it is a common law country.

A statute which covers civil laws such as family, business, property, etc is called a civil code.

In India, defamation is both, civil and criminal wrong. In a civil suit for defamation, the Law of Torts is the governing law which helps the aggrieved to seek compensation for the loss of reputation. In criminal cases for defamation, the governing law is the Indian Penal Code under Sections 499 and 500 which helps the aggrieved party to make the opposite party go into imprisonment for the loss of reputation. The imprisonment is for a maximum time period of 2 years or fine or both.

The manner in which all civil matters are dealt with in the civil courts of India is called civil litigation. Matters such as disagreements over contracts, property, marriage, etc are solved with the help of civil litigation. An expert lawyer of civil law will help the prospective client to win the civil suit and get the client sufficient compensation for all the loss he/she has suffered due to the opposite party. In India, civil law is constituted of 2 components known as civil and procedural law.

An injunction which prohibits a party from doing a certain act till the matter is pending or till the court passes another order in that matter is called a temporary injunction. It is also called Interim Injunction. A court can order a temporary injunction throughout the legal proceedings of a certain matter and is governed by Order 39 of the Code of Civil Procedure.

An injunction which is issued at the time when the court delivers the final judgement is called a permanent injunction. The other name for a permanent injunction is a perpetual injunction. The effectiveness of such an injunction remains for a longer time period. The opposite party is perpetually prohibited from doing or abstaining from doing an act that would negatively affect the interest of the plaintiff.

The essential features of civil law are as follows:

  • It protects the rights of the citizens from being violated.
  • It provides an effective remedy when there is a violation of the rights of a person.

Matters such as divorce, marriage, sale of property, tenancy, etc are covered under civil law.

Civil law is important to resolve a dispute between parties which is not of a criminal nature. It helps in removing unfair business practices, exploitative behavior and enhances the relationship between the members of society.

There are a lot of branches of civil law. The most commonly seen branches are property law, taxation law, family law, sports law, etc.

There is no case of punishment in civil law. The aggrieved party has the right to seek compensation for the loss suffered in order to settle the dispute between the parties.

Yes, the matters of family law are dealt with under civil law. It involves matters between two parties which are socially related to each other. It involves decisions with regard to custody of a child, maintenance, etc.

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