Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Civil Litigation Definition:

The conduct of a non-criminal matter in a court of law from initial advice to client(s) through to the enforcement of judgment.

Civil litigation is a term of art which distinguishes lawyer Court work in the non-criminal stream of actions in law. It encompasses not just the representations made in Court but also the pre-trial procedures including interlocutory hearings, and the port-trial procedures such as costs and enforcement of a judgment. Civil procedure is only one of many components of civil litigation.

In one of the many incarnations of her hard-copy law dictionaries, Canadian lawyer Daphne Dukelow defined civil litigation as follows:

"Litigation involving private parties as opposed to criminal proceedings."

However, that may be an agreeable definition for the "man on the Clapman omnibus" but in law, distinctions are necessary. Civil litigation is often distinguished from the arbitration of collective agreement disputes and criminal litigation, the latter being a specialty of some lawyers in representing clients only in criminal cases such as criminal hearings, trials or appeals.

Civil litigation does, though, include judicial review, adult guardianship and maritime law disputes.

Three of the most frequent types of civil litigation but not at all the only ones, are family law claims, tort claims and claims in which a breach of contract is alleged. In 1985, Justice Stevens of the United States Supreme Court remarked in Wilson v Garcia:

"General personal injury actions, sounding in tort, constitute a major part of the total volume of civil litigation in the state courts today."

If a law firm or lawyer advertises a specialty in civil litigation it means that they are suggesting expertise in the litigious aspects of advancing a claim in Court, and can advance a client's interests in all aspects of the claim, from pre-trial to post-trial steps.


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