Civil law deals with disputes between private parties, or negligent acts that cause harm to others. For example, if individuals or companies disagree over the terms of an agreement, or who owns land or buildings, or whether a person was wrongfully dismissed from their employment, they may file a lawsuit asking the courts to decide who is right. As well, the failure to exercise the degree of caution that an ordinarily reasonable person would take in any situation may result in a negligence claim. Depending on the circumstances, a person may be held responsible for any damages or injury that occurs as a result of their negligence. Family law cases involving divorce, parental responsibility for children, spousal support, child support and division of property between spouses or common law couples represent a large portion of the civil law cases presented to the South African courts. Challenges to decisions of administrative tribunals, allegations of medical malpractice and applications for distribution of the estates of deceased persons are other examples of civil cases. The party who brings the legal action is known as the plaintiff or applicant, while the party being sued is the defendant or respondent. The courts may dismiss a case, or if it is found to have merit, the courts may order the losing party to take corrective action, although the usual outcome is an order to pay damages which is mostly monetary award designed to make up for the harm suffered. The state plays no role in civil cases, unless the government launches a lawsuit or is the party being sued. Parties retain an attorney and any party may choose to represent himself / herself to gather evidence and present the case in court.
Differing standards of proof: More evidence is needed to find the accused at fault in criminal cases than to find the defendant at fault in civil ones. To convict someone of a crime, the National Prosecuting authority / states must show there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the person committed the crime being charged with and in most cases that the alleged perpetrator(s) had the requisite intended to commit it. In South African Magistrates presides over Magistrate / district courts and Regional Courts and the Judges and sometimes assessors assists seat together in the High court and superior courts and they cannot convict someone they believe probably committed the crime or likely is guilty . They must be almost certain with a doubt. This gives the accused the benefit of any reasonable doubt and makes it less likely an innocent person will be wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. Civil cases, in contrast, must be proven on a balance of probabilities and if it is more likely than not that the defendant caused harm or loss, a court can hold the Defendant and Respondent liable in a civil claim and sometimes where there are counter claims a Plaintiff or Applicant liable.