The difference between civil and criminal law is that criminal law involves the notion of a punishment either by a fine to the government, incarceration or in some U.S. States, execution. Criminal law in the United States for example, divides punishments into 2 different categories: felonies which involve sentences of incarceration for more than one year and misdemeanors, which involve sentences of incarceration that are less than one year. Civil law works on the notion penalizing the defendant for behavior causing losses to the complainant; there is no jail time or fine paid to the government, but rather payment to cover losses suffered; such as loss of privacy, slander, libel and such. Civil law is different from Common Law. Common law is decided by judges and other bodies. So the innocence or guilt of a defendant is dependent upon decisions made in past similar cases. In cases where there are no previous examples in which to base a decision, a judge must set a precedent: create a rule that will apply to future similar cases. Common law is the system used in the United States.
Civil law is based on a system derived in the Roman Empire in the 6th century. Basically, it sets out a list of rules that must be followed that can only be changed by legislation of government. Judges do take into account decisions that have been made in the past, but they cannot change the law. Civil law is the most common system of law in the world. It is also known as European Continental Law. In summary, Common Law is based on rules set forth by judges and Civil Law is based on rules set forth by a governing body.