As discussed, there are various laws that make up the legal system. Therefore, to simplify the use of such laws both by the Courts and by civilians, legal theory tends to classify law into various categories. Such categories include:
- Public and private law. The main differences between private and public law are shown in the graph below by pediaa:
Public law pertains to the relationship between the State and its citizens. This body of law comprises several sub-categories:
Constitutional law pertains to the workings of each country’s constitution. It regulates the operation of the three main branches of government, i.e. the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive, and it contains a bill of the citizens’ rights.
Administrative law is the law governing the functions of government and the role it plays for its citizens; this field of law regulates areas such as the provision of a State retirement pension, income support, child benefits, issuance of permits, etc.
Criminal law pertains to the punishment of offenders. Certain wrongdoings pose a serious threat to the societal order, and they are considered violations/crimes against society. Criminal law renders such wrongdoings or offences punishable by the State. Criminal law also regulates the State’s powers in the apprehension, prosecution and punishment of offenders.
Private law is the body of law that regulates relations between private individuals and stipulates their rights and duties. The State does not interfere in this field of law other than to provide a civilized method of dispute resolution. Hence, in such cases, it is up to the individual to initiate legal proceedings against another individual (e.g. if your neighbour plays music too loudly, the State will not interfere unless you initiate legal proceedings against them). Similarly, private law (or civil law as it is also referred as) also comprises of several statutes that are best classified on the basis of the subject they relate to. For example, private law includes:
Family law; this body of law governs family matters, such as marriage, divorce, property relations, custody of children, and child support.
Contract law; covers the formation, operation, breach and discharge of contracts, e.g. contract law regulates lease agreements, contracts for the purchase of goods, etc. For example, when you purchase a car, to ensure that you have legally obtained ownership the conditions set out in contract law must be met.
Torts Law; regulates civil wrongs. For example, if you go into a supermarket and you fall because of the slippery floor, which was not properly marked as being slippery, you may be entitled to bring a claim against the supermarket owner based on tort law.
Land Law; regulates the ownership of immovable property.
Business Law, etc.
Substantive and Procedural Law
Procedural law establishes the procedure to be followed by courts and other instruments of justice. It answers the questions, what procedure should the court follow to rectify a wrong (e.g. should it hear witness testimony, can it accept illegally obtained documents as evidence, which Court is responsible to hear the case, etc.) and whether the procedure followed was legal and fair. On the contrary, substantive law pertains to and stipulates our legal rights and duties; it is concerned with what we can and cannot do, not with the process. In this respect, family law, torts law, and land law are substantive laws.