Criminal Law: Meaning and Significance

The commands that you "do it this way or else you suffer for it." The criminal justice system is built on the principles of criminal law. In fact, no society is free of crime; or in other words, wherever the society is, crime is bound to be there. So, to curb the crime and safeguard the society, criminal law legislated.

What is Criminal Law?

Criminal law that primarily defines the types of crime, determines the degree of crimes and respective punishment, and lastly also explains the procedure to punish a perpetrator, is well defined and codified law. Likewise, if someone commits a crime, then under the criminal law provision, he or she is penalize based on the degree of the committed crime. Normally, accordingly to the procedure, first he is arrested, put on trial, and, if found guilty, then finally punished. Analysis of the definitions of particular crimes as well as the universal rules that govern all crimes is known as substantive criminal law. On the other hand, an examination of the legal guidelines controlling the tracking down, looking into, and prosecution come under the procedural criminal law.

Purpose for Criminal Law's Development in Society

Following are the major reasons −

  • It emerged as a tool for social control within a culture. Humans are naturally feeble. As a result, they are prone to wrongdoing, and criminal law was developed to prevent such criminal acts.

  • Disputes in the society are another common characteristic that more often take a serious form and turn into criminal offenses. If there is no defined restraint for such an act, it will result in a chaotic situation; thus, the enactment of criminal law is required to maintain law and order in society and to promote welfare in society.

Definitions of Criminal Law

Criminal law can be concluded as −

a) To outlaw and restrain behavior that unjustifiably endangers or seriously harms a person, others’ lives, or the public goods. Respect for life and property is demanded.

b) To put under public supervision those whose actions may amount to criminal offense. For instance, a 4−year sentence is intended to prevent a person from committing other crimes; in other words, it serves as a deterrent to other criminals.

c) Assess the nature of the behavior that has been deemed illegal fairly; for example, it would be unfair to punish someone for behavior they are unaware of. Thus, it establishes what is and is not illegal.

To inform persons of actions that could result in criminal charges as well as the seriousness of that punishment.

Criminal Law Generally Serves the Following Purposes

  • Maintain law and order in the society;

  • Uphold public decency and order;

  • To shield citizens from inappropriate and harmful content;

  • To offer adequate protection against exploitation and corruption of the more vulnerable elements of society, such as the young and physically or mentally ill.

How Does Criminal Law Work?

A person, who violates the law, considered as the offender, so, as per the criminal law, he will be taken into custody, put on trial, and, if found guilty, punishment is awarded. The defined punishment will be imposed by court of law. However, if crime is trivial (petty crime) in nature, then judge or magistrate may issue a warning to the defendant with small amount of fine. But if he repeats it, then he will be punished.

What Justifies the Use of the Concept of Punishment in Criminal Law

The basic purpose behind giving punishment to the offenders is to discourage him not to repeat such offensive behavior; to protect the society from such offenders; and, also to create a deterrent condition, as because of such punishment, other person who might thinking to commit crime, may get frighten. In other words, he will be afraid of doing any punishable act. This concept defines deterrent theory.

Another theory that define the purpose of punishment is Preventive theory. According to this theory, punishment aims to stop or incapacitate the offender from repeating the offense.

Lastly, there is reformative or rehabilitation theory, which states that a criminal may occasionally receive punishment in order to undergo reformation.

Characteristics of Crime

It includes −

a) The act or omission must be against a community.

b) The behavior must be prohibited and a punishable offence. One can distinguish between technically wrong action, such as wrongful parking, which is referred to as mala prohibitam, and evil sorts of conduct, such as murder, which is referred to as male inse.


As discussed above, criminal law is the body of rules and regulation that defines crimes and respective punishments. It proposes conduct perceived as threatening, harmful, or otherwise endangering to the life, health, safety, and moral welfare of people inclusive of one's self. Besides, it also makes property damage as criminal offence. Normally, criminal law of all jurisdiction is established by statute, which means, the criminal law is enacted by a legislature.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the main purpose of criminal law?

The criminal law prohibits conduct that causes or threatens the public interest; defines and warns people of the acts that are subject to criminal punishment; distinguishes between serious and minor offenses; and imposes punishment to protect society and to satisfy the demands for retribution and rehabilitation.

Q. What is criminal law punishment?

Criminal punishments are sanctions and punishment imposed on persons convicted of criminal acts by the competitive court. Usually, it is in the form of fine or imprisonment or both.

Q. What is the highest form of punishment?

Capital punishment refers to the process of sentencing convicted offenders to death for the most serious crimes (capital crimes) and carrying out that sentence.

Q. What are the two sides of criminal law?

Usually, there are two sides of criminal law− defense (from the accused’s side) and prosecution (from the plaintiff’s side). Both sides can be seen during the trial of the case inside the court.

Q. What are the main branches of criminal law?

Prima facie, the first branch of criminal law is the police, who arrest the accused, investigate the case, and file a charge sheet in court. Secondly, the lawyers (both prosecutor and defense) who argue the case try to prove guilty (prosecutor) and not guilty (defense). Finally, there is the judiciary (the judge), who sentences if found guilty and frees if found not guilty.