15th, January 2013
The two main legal systems in the world include the common law system and the civil law system. Different countries in the world therefore, adopt features from one of these systems to incorporate into their own legal systems. Further classification of law results in a variety of categories of law and their sub-divisions. Public law, as well as private law is some of the most important classifications. The category of public law governs relationships between the state and individuals. In this case, the term “individuals” refers to companies, organizations, and citizens. Public law is further divided into different sub-categories to include constitutional law, criminal law, and administrative law. The public law in the United States is greatly influenced by the English law, called the “common law.” The common law has its roots in England where it is the legal tradition. This law evolved in England starting from the 11th Century. It is also the basis of private law of different countries, including Ireland, Wales, and the United States, with an exception of the state of Louisiana, whose state law is based on civil law (Carper McKinsey & West, 2008).
The common law and civil law have different histories. The common law came into existence in 1066 because of the unification of the customs of the Norman conquerors and the older Saxon law. The civil law however, has a longer history than that of the common law and traces its roots from the Romans. The spread and adoption of these law systems in other world countries was mainly influenced by colonization and conquests. Nonetheless, the core distinction between these two legal systems lies in their structure, history, and legislation. While the common law system lacks a clear comprehensible structure, the civil law system puts more emphasis on the organization and clarity of its structure (Allen, 2010).
Law in society is made up of a variety of rules, which are enforced by law courts, and play the role of government regulation, as well as the control of relationships between the state and its citizens, and between the citizens themselves. Public law and private law is a crucial categorization of the law, as these primarily address different relationships in a country, which are paramount in ensuring stability. As noted earlier, public law regulates the relationships between a country and its citizens. This law is further divided into the constitutional law, the administrative law, and the criminal law. These are enacted by the Congress, and enforced by a different arm of government. Public laws have a distinct method of citation used in their reference. This method includes an abbreviation of public law, followed by the Congress number, and the law number. For instance, a public law can be cited as Pub.L. 77-003 (Carper McKinsey & West, 2008).
The constitutional law mainly involves the functions of a country’s constitution. The different constitutional matters addressed by this law include the duties and operations of the local and central government, the composition of parliament, parliament procedures, civil liberties of citizens, and their citizenship. The administrative law governs the administration of government projects and schemes in a country. This is therefore, a body of laws meant to address the issues and disputes arising from the government administration of the projects. Such issues could be those affecting citizens; therefore, this law helps address the complaints of citizens against actions by the government agency administering specific projects. On the other hand, the criminal law serves the purpose of addressing criminal acts and crime in a country. This sub-division is considered under public and not private law because criminal activities disrupt social order and pose a threat to the whole community. The offenders of this law therefore, are victimized as having made an offence against the state and are subject to sanctions. In this situation, the state takes on the responsibility of all the costs involved in prosecution and punishment of these law-breakers (Stott & Felix, 1997).
Private law on the other hand, is concerned with individual relationships in a country. These relationships include those between individuals, as well as companies and organizations. The state is however, still involved in this law, as it is responsible for the provision of an appropriate method of addressing the dispute involved. In this law, the offended individual initiates the legal process, before the state comes in to offer a solution. This law mainly affects an individual, a family, or small group. These also serve to help citizens negatively affected by government programs to access justice. Likewise, those individuals making an appeal for an executive ruling such as deportation could benefit from this law. As the case of public law, private law also has a citation method, which is similar to that of public law, except for the abbreviation part of “private law.” An example of a private law citation is, Pvt.L. 77-003 (Carper McKinsey & West, 2008).
There is a distinction between public law and private law, based on their application. Private law aims at controlling the relationships between individuals, companies, and organizations. The main categories of this law include tort, company, land, contract, and employment law. Public law on the other hand applies in the regulation of relationships between individual people, organizations, and companies, and the state, with its various organs. The categories of public law include immigration and criminal laws, as well as matters involving human rights issues (Allen, 2010).
Specifically, private law is horizontal in nature, while the public law is vertical in nature. This is because private law regulates relationships between parties who fall at the same level. On the other hand, public law regulates relationships between different parties with varying level of superiority; in this case, the state is more powerful than an individual, or a company. Therefore, a case involving two or more individuals, a company, or a private organization, then such a case will be addressed by the private law. Subsequently, a case involving an individual, a company, or organization, with the local authority, police, government department, public authority or body, and any other public official, then this kind of case will be settled by use of the public law (Oliver, 1999).
The differences between public and private law can be addressed basing on three major principles. The first factor involves the aims of the two laws, as seen before; public law aims at the protection of the interests of the public, while private law aims at protecting private interests. For instance, torts invade on private rights, while crimes invade on public rights, as they affect the community and society at large. The second differentiating factor between private and public law lies in the type of sanctions, which are administered to the law-breakers in both cases. A comparison between penal codes and civil ones shows that penal codes are more severe. Criminal activity evokes sanctions such as fines, imprisonment, among others. On the other hand, offenders in private law are required to pay for damages to the plaintiff, and sometimes injunctions may be granted. The third difference between private and public law lies in the type of parties involved. In public law, the state or its organ is the main party, which initiates the litigation. On the other hand, in private law, the party responsible for activation of the law process is an offended individual, or company, referred to as the plaintiff (Oliver, 1999).
Nonetheless, private law borrows from public law, and so does the public law borrow from private law. Therefore, their discrepancy is not vast. For instance, the state plays the role of a legislator in private law through the provision of mandatory norms, which all individuals need to adhere to, mainly for social order. Generally, this category of law has experienced considerable changes since its inception in different countries. This will continue to evolve in different these countries, with more changes depending on the legal needs of different countries.
Allen, M. L. (2010). “Public Law and Private Law: The Frontier from the Perspective of a Tort
Lawyer” Retrieved from http://www.erudit.org/revue/cd/1976/v17/n4/042139ar.pdf
Carper, D., McKinsey, J. & West, B. (2008). “Understanding the Law”. Cengage Learning: New
Oliver, D. (1999). “Common Values and the Public-Private Divide”. Cambridge University Press:
Stott, D. & Felix, A. (1997). “Principles of Administrative Law”. Routledge: London.
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