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Legal Dictionary

public law

Legal Definition of public law

Noun

  1. Those laws which regulate (a) the structure and administration of the government, (b) the conduct of the government in its relations with its citizens, (c) the responsibilities of government employees and (d) the relationships with foreign governments. Good examples are criminal and constitutional law. It can be distinguished from private law, which regulates the private conduct between individuals, without direct involvement of the government. For example, an unsolicited punch in the nose would constitute a crime for which the government would prosecute under criminal law but for which there would also be a private legal action possible by the injured party under tort law, which is private law although governments can be held responsible under tort law. As you can see, the line is often hard to draw between public and private law.

Related terms


Definition of public law

Noun

public law (uncountable)

  1. (law) A category of law governing the relationship between the state on one hand and persons (citizens or legal persons including corporations) on the other. Constitutional law, administrative law and criminal law are some of the major subdivisions of public law.

See also

Further reading

Public law is a theory of law governing the relationship between individuals (citizens, companies) and the state. Under this theory, constitutional law, administrative law and criminal law are sub-divisions of public law. This theory is at odds with the concept of Constitutional law, which requires all laws to be specifically enabled, and thereby sub-divisions, of a Constitution.

Generally speaking, private law is the area of law in a society that affects the relationships between individuals or groups without the intervention of the state or government. In many cases the public/private law distinction is confounded by laws that regulate private relations while having been passed by legislative enactment. In some cases these public statutes are known as laws of public order, as private individuals do not have the right to break them and any attempt to circumvent such laws is void as against public policy.

Areas of public law

  • Constitutional law deals with the relationship between the state and individual, and the relationships between different branches of the state, such as the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. In most legal systems, these relationships are specified within a written constitutional document. However, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK), due to historical and political reasons there does not exist one supreme, entrenched written document. The UK has an unwritten constitution-the constitution of this state is usually found in statutes, such as the Magna Carta (see Holt, J.C., Magna Carta, 2nd edition 1992), the Petition of Right, the Bill of Rights, The Act of Settlement 1700 and the Parliament Act 1911 and Parliament Act 1949. The constitution is also found in case-law, such as the historical decision in Entick v. Carrington (1765) 19 St Tr 1030, and the landmark decision of M v. Home Office [1994] 1 AC 377; [1992] QB 270. Due to the lack of a written constitution, the idea of the legislative supremacy of Parliament and the rule of law play an important role in the constitution (see A. V. Dicey, The Law of the Constitution (ed. E. C. S. Wade), 10th edition, 1959). Despite all this, in reality, much of the constitution is a political phenomenon, rather than a legal one.
  • Administrative law refers to the body of law which regulates bureaucratic managerial procedures and defines the powers of administrative agencies. These laws are enforced by the executive branch of a government rather than the judicial or legislative branches (if they are different in that particular jurisdiction). This body of law regulates international trade, manufacturing, pollution, taxation, and the like. This is sometimes seen as a subcategory of Civil law and sometimes seen as public law as it deals with regulation and public institutions.
  • Statutory law regulates our behavior by setting rules, like speed limits, and established rights and benefits, such as drivers license and Social Security benefits. A legislative branch of government writes this type of law.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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