Crime vs. Delict

What's the Difference?

Crime and delict are two legal concepts that pertain to wrongful acts committed by individuals. Crime refers to an offense against society as a whole, and it is typically prosecuted by the state. It involves actions that are considered morally wrong and are punishable by law, such as murder, theft, or fraud. On the other hand, delict is a civil wrong that primarily affects individuals and their property. It involves actions that cause harm or injury to another person, such as negligence or defamation. While crimes are prosecuted in criminal courts and can result in imprisonment or fines, delicts are usually resolved through civil litigation, where the victim seeks compensation for the harm caused.


DefinitionIllegal act punishable by lawWrongful act that violates civil law
Legal ClassificationCriminal offenseCivil wrong
ProsecutionHandled by the statePrivate individuals can initiate legal action
PunishmentCan result in imprisonment, fines, or probationTypically involves compensation or damages
IntentMay require proof of intent or guilty mindIntent may not always be necessary
SeverityCan range from minor offenses to serious crimesGenerally less severe than crimes
Public vs PrivatePrimarily affects society as a wholePrimarily affects individuals or specific parties
Legal ProceedingsFollows criminal justice systemFollows civil litigation process
Standard of ProofBeyond a reasonable doubtPreponderance of evidence

Further Detail


Crime and delict are two terms often used in legal contexts to describe wrongful acts committed by individuals. While both terms refer to unlawful behavior, they have distinct attributes that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the differences between crime and delict, examining their definitions, legal implications, and societal impact.


Crime is generally defined as an act that violates a criminal law and is punishable by the state. It encompasses a wide range of offenses, from minor infractions to serious felonies. Crimes are typically categorized based on their severity, with different penalties assigned accordingly. On the other hand, delict is a term primarily used in civil law systems, referring to a wrongful act that causes harm or damage to another person or their property. Delicts are often resolved through civil litigation, where the injured party seeks compensation for the harm suffered.

Legal Implications

One of the key distinctions between crime and delict lies in their legal implications. Crimes are considered offenses against society as a whole, and the state takes on the role of prosecuting the offender. The burden of proof rests with the prosecution, who must establish the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. If found guilty, the offender may face various penalties, including fines, probation, imprisonment, or even capital punishment, depending on the severity of the crime.

On the other hand, delicts are primarily concerned with resolving disputes between individuals. The injured party, known as the plaintiff, initiates a civil lawsuit against the alleged wrongdoer, referred to as the defendant. In delict cases, the burden of proof is typically lower than in criminal cases, requiring the plaintiff to establish their case on a balance of probabilities. If the defendant is found liable, they may be ordered to compensate the plaintiff for the harm caused, usually in the form of monetary damages.

Types of Offenses

Crimes encompass a wide range of offenses, including but not limited to theft, assault, murder, fraud, and drug-related offenses. These offenses are generally considered to be against the state and society, as they disrupt public order and safety. The severity of crimes can vary significantly, with some carrying minor penalties and others resulting in lengthy prison sentences or even life imprisonment.

Delicts, on the other hand, typically involve civil wrongs such as negligence, defamation, trespassing, or breach of contract. These offenses are primarily concerned with harm caused to individuals or their property. While delicts may not pose a direct threat to public safety, they can still have significant consequences for the parties involved. The aim of delict cases is to provide compensation to the injured party and restore them to their pre-harm condition as much as possible.

Intent and Fault

Intent and fault play a crucial role in distinguishing between crime and delict. In criminal law, the concept of mens rea, or guilty mind, is often a key element in establishing criminal liability. Prosecutors must prove that the accused had the intention to commit the crime or acted with a reckless disregard for the consequences of their actions. This requirement ensures that individuals are not unjustly punished for accidental or unintentional acts.

In delict cases, intent is not always a necessary element. Many delicts are based on the concept of strict liability, where the defendant can be held responsible for the harm caused, regardless of their intent or fault. For example, in a product liability case, a manufacturer may be held liable for injuries caused by a defective product, even if they were not aware of the defect. However, in certain delict cases, such as intentional torts like assault or defamation, the plaintiff may need to establish that the defendant acted with intent or negligence.

Societal Impact

Crimes have a significant impact on society as a whole. They can erode public trust, disrupt social order, and threaten the safety and well-being of individuals. The state's response to crimes, through law enforcement, prosecution, and punishment, aims to deter future criminal behavior and maintain social cohesion. The severity of crimes often leads to public outcry and demands for justice, as society seeks to protect its members and ensure a sense of security.

Delicts, while not directly impacting society at large, can still have far-reaching consequences for individuals and their relationships. Delict cases often involve disputes between family members, neighbors, business partners, or other individuals. The resolution of these cases through civil litigation aims to restore the injured party's rights and provide compensation for the harm suffered. By addressing individual wrongs, delict law contributes to maintaining social harmony and upholding the principles of fairness and justice.


In summary, crime and delict are distinct legal concepts that describe different types of wrongful acts. Crimes are offenses against society, prosecuted by the state, and carry penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment. Delicts, on the other hand, involve civil wrongs between individuals, resolved through civil litigation, and aim to provide compensation for harm suffered. Understanding the attributes and differences between crime and delict is essential for a comprehensive understanding of the legal system and its impact on society.

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