Crimes vs Civil Wrongs
In broad terms, crime involves community condemnation and punishment through the State (either State or Commonwealth), while a civil wrong is a wrong against an individual that calls for compensation or repayment to the person wronged. If a person takes money from someone’s bag without their permission, intending to keep it, they are committing a criminal offence (stealing) for which they may be punished if found guilty. They may also be ordered to pay the person they stole from compensation, but this is only in addition to the punishment process. On the other hand, a person who fails to pay back money which was loaned to them does not necessarily commit a crime, and although a person can take a civil case to get the money back, the person will not necessarily be criminally punished.
Crimes are prosecuted by the State or Commonwealth. This means that either police prosecute an offence (police prosecutions) or the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Private criminal prosecutions are possible but they are very rare. For civil matters, it is up to the individual affected to take proceedings against the person who allegedly committed the civil wrong. A victim of a crime, whether it is one of violence or against property, has a right irrespective of the outcome of a criminal prosecution to sue the culprit for damage or loss. Of course, many such offenders have no assets and therefore obtaining a civil judgement against such a person is often fruitless. The Tasmanian government provides some assistance with Victims Support Services and the availability of Criminal Injuries Compensation.
Victims of some crimes are entitled to criminal injuries compensation where criminal conduct is proved and it is apparent that the offender has no means to satisfy a civil judgment against the victim. The maximum compensation available is $30,000 where there is a single offence and $50,000 where there is more than one offence (s4, Victims of Crime Assistance Regulations 2010 (Tas)). Such compensation is not available for the loss of property. However, both the Magistrates and Supreme Courts can make restitution orders under the Sentencing Act (s65) for loss of property, and other offences. Stealing and theft restitution is only available for offences under the Criminal Code.
Many minor criminal offences may also have serious civil consequences, for example, driving without due care and attention which may lead to destruction of someone’s motor vehicle or personal injury. Civil cases only have to be proved on the balance of probabilities, whereas criminal cases or offences must be proved beyond reasonable doubt.