Classification of Law

Classifying Law

Note: see also Law Classification in this Encyclopedia

In many countries, laws originate from three main sources: previous judicial decisions (common law), parliament/s (acts, statutes or legislation), and the Constitution (constitutional law).

Legal Systems


See Jurisdictions in this Encyclopedia for more information.

In federal legal systems, the federal government jurisdiction in several areas of law (typically criminal law, financial law, military law and others). State or provincial governments (or parliaments) have jurisdiction to enact laws affecting education, health and other areas. Local governments (including Municipal governments) enact laws (called bylaws in Canada) that address local or municipal issues.

In some countries, Aboriginal communities have some authority to be applied to themselves.

Categories of Law

See more information about Categories of Law here.

Despite legal issues rarely fit neatly into one category or another without overlapping, with grey borders, categories of law provide a path to organize the law. The main broad categories of law include international and domestic law, public and private law (in some jurisdictions is called civil law), and substantive and procedural law (like criminal procedural law and civil procedural law).

Public and Private Law

See more about comparing Public and Private Law in this Encyclpoedia here.

Substantive law can be divided into the categories of public law and private law.

International versus Domestic Law

Administrative and Public Law

  • Education Law
  • Federal Worker’s Compensation
  • Military / Veteran’s Benefits
  • Social Security
  • Social Security & SST
  • Social Security Disability
  • State Worker’s Compensation
  • Unemployment Compensation
  • Bankruptcy / Debtor / Creditor Law

  • Bankruptcy
  • Collections
  • Debtor Relations
  • Foreclosures
  • Business and Corporation Law

  • Accounting
  • Agribusiness
  • Antitrust
  • Corporations and Partnerships
  • Franchise / Dealership
  • Litigation
  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Non-profit Corporations
  • Securities
  • Commercial / Consumer Law

  • Bank / Sav. & Loan / Credit Union
  • Construction Contracts
  • Consumer Credit
  • Consumer Loans
  • Contracts
  • FMHA / FHA / VA Loans
  • Lemon Law
  • Student Loans
  • Constitutional Law

  • Civil Rights
  • Human Rights
  • Political Rights
  • Discrimination
  • Criminal Law

  • Assault and Battery
  • Drugs and Narcotics
  • DUI
  • Felony
  • Juvenile
  • Misdemeanor
  • Traffic
  • Environmental and Natural Resources

  • Animals
  • Natural Resources
  • Oil and Gas
  • Water
  • Family Law

  • Adoption
  • Child Support
  • Custody Disputes
  • Divorce
  • Paternity
  • Protection from Abuse
  • Visitation
  • Health Law

  • Health Care
  • Medical Malpractice
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Intellectual Property

  • Biotechnology
  • Communications
  • Computers
  • Copyright
  • Patent
  • Sports and Entertainment Law
  • Telecommunications
  • Trademark
  • Labor and Employment Law

  • Employee Representation
  • Employer Representation
  • Government Regulations
  • Union Representation
  • Workplace Safety
  • Practice of Law

  • Ethics and Professionalism
  • Code of Professionalism
  • Legal Advertising
  • Legal Malpractice
  • Rules of Professional Conduct
  • Substance Abuse
  • Law Office Management
  • Attorney-Client Relationship
  • Calendar Control
  • Case Tracking and Management
  • Conflict of Interest Checks
  • Client Communication
  • Establishing/Terminating Relationship
  • Fees and Billing
  • File Management
  • Office Management Technology
  • Supervising Staff
  • Settlement Accounting
  • Trust Accounts
  • General Practice
  • Practice Skills Training
  • Advocacy
  • Discovery
  • Deposition
  • Evidence
  • Experts
  • Judges
  • Juries
  • Negotiations
  • Oral Arguments
  • Trials
  • Witnesses
  • Mediation and Arbitration

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Mediation / Arbitration
  • Real Estate Law

  • Boundary Disputes
  • Business Properties
  • Condominium
  • Construction
  • Easements
  • Landlord
  • Property
  • Residential
  • Tenant
  • Zoning
  • Taxation

  • Corporation Tax
  • Federal Tax
  • Individual (Personal) Tax
  • Local Tax
  • State Tax
  • Injuries and Tort Law

  • Appellate
  • Automobile Accidents
  • Insurance
  • Miscellaneous Tort
  • Personal Injury
  • Product Liability
  • Property Damage
  • Transportation Law

  • Admiralty
  • Aviation
  • Maritime Law
  • Motor Carrier
  • Motor Vehicles
  • Railroads
  • Space Law
  • Wills and Estates

  • Estate Administration
  • Estate Planning
  • Estates and Trusts
  • Legal Affairs of Sr. Citizens
  • Legal Affairs of the Poor
  • Preparation of Wills
  • Probate of Wills
  • Federal / Local Law

  • Federal Law
  • State or Provincial Law
  • Local and/or Municipal Law
  • Indian Law
  • Other

  • District Attorney
  • Eminent Domain
  • Immigration Law
  • Public Utility Law
  • Religion
  • In Australia and New Zealand

    The Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification (ANZSRC) classified research according to type of activity, research fields, courses and disciplines, and socioeconomic objectives. In the classification, most legal research is included within the category of ‘Applied Research’.

    Under Fields of Research appears the section or “Divison 18 LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES”, which covers law and legal studies and has three groups of subsections:

    The exclusions from the above Division are the following:

    • Criminology, including policing and correctional theory, is included in Group 1602 Criminology (see below).
    • Legal ethics and human rights and justice issues are included in Group 2201 Applied Ethics.
    • History and philosophy of law and justice is included in Group 2202 History and Philosophy of Specific Fields.

    The criminology group has seven fields:

    • 160201 Causes and Prevention of Crime
    • 160202 Correctional Theory, Offender Treatment and Rehabilitation
    • 160203 Courts and Sentencing
    • 160204 Criminological Theories
    • 160205 Police Administration, Procedures and Practice
    • 160206 Private Policing and Security Services
    • 160299 Criminology not elsewhere classified

    Exclusions of the criminology group are:

    • Forensic statistics is included in Group 0104 Statistics.
    • Forensic chemistry is included in Group 0399 Other Chemical Sciences.
    • Forensic biology is included in Group 0699 Other Biological Sciences.
    • Crime policy is included in Group 1605 Policy and Administration.
    • Forensic psychology is included in Group 1701 Psychology.
    • Criminal law is included in Group 1801 Law (as seen above).

    Classification of laws

    Commanding, prohibitive, permissive, and penal

    From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    “The actual, direct effect of law is obligation. According to the varieties of duty imposed, law is classified as: commanding, prohibitive, permissive, and penal. Commanding laws (leges affirmativae) make the performance of an action, of something positive, obligatory; prohibitive laws (leges negativae), on the other hand, make obligatory an omission. The principle holds good for prohibitive laws at least if they are absolute, like the commands of the natural, moral law, (“Thou shalt not bear false witness”, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, etc.) that they are always and for ever obligatory (leges negativae obligant semper et pro semper–negative laws bind always and forever), i.e. it is never permissible to perform the forbidden action. Commanding laws however, as the law that debts must be paid, always impose an obligation, it is true, but not for ever (leges affirmativae obligant semper, sed non pro semper–affirmative laws are binding always but not forever), that is, they continue always to be laws but they do not oblige one at every moment to the performance of the action commanded, but only at a certain time and under certain conditions. All laws which inflict penalties for violation of the law are called penal, whether they themselves directly define the manner and amount of penalty, or make it the duty of the judge to inflict according to his judgment a just punishment. Laws purely penal (leges mere poenales) are those which do not make an action absolutely obligatory, but simply impose penalty in case one is convicted of transgression. Thus they leave it, in a certain sense, to the choice of the subject whether he will abstain from the penal action, or whether, if the violation is proved against him, he will submit to the penalty. The objection cannot be raised that purely penal laws are not actual laws because they create no bounden duty, for they oblige the violator of the law to bear the punishment if the authorities apprehend and convict him. Whether a law is a purely penal law or not is not so easy to decide in an individual case. The decision depends on the will of the lawgiver and also upon the general opinion and custom of a community.”

    Natural moral law and positive law

    From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    In treating of promulgation a distinction has to be made between natural moral law and positive law. The first is proclaimed to all men by the natural light of reason; positive laws are made known by special outward signs (word of mouth or writing). The natural moral law is a law inseparable from the nature of man; positive law, on the contrary, is not. In regard to the origin or source of law, a distinction is made between Divine and human laws according as they are issued directly by God Himself or by men in virtue of the power granted them by God. If man in issuing a law is simply the herald or messenger of God, the law is not human but Divine. Thus the laws which Moses received from God on Mount Sinai and proclaimed to the people of Israel were not human but Divine laws. A distinction is further made between the laws of Church and State according as they are issued by the authorities of the State or of the Church. Laws are divided as to origin into prescriptive and statute law. Prescriptive, or customary, law includes those laws which do not come into existence by direct decree of the lawgiving power, but by long continued custom of the community. Yet every custom does not give rise to a law or right. In order to become law a custom must be universal or must, at least, be followed freely and with the intention of raising it to law by a considerable part of the population. It must further be a custom of long standing. Finally, it must be useful to the common welfare, because this is an essential requisite of every law. Custom receives its binding, obligatory force from the tacit or legal approval of the lawgiver, for every true law binds those upon whom it is imposed. Only he can impose a binding obligation on a community on whom the supervision of it or the power of jurisdiction over it devolves. If the legislative power belongs to a people itself it can impose obligation upon itself as a whole, if it has not this power the obligation can only be formed with the consent of the lawgiver (see CUSTOM).

    A classification of law, as limited to law administered in the courts, and familiar to Roman jurisprudence, is that of law in the strict sense and equity (jus strictum et jus aequum et bonum). Equity is often taken as synonymous with natural justice. In this sense we say that equity forbids that anyone be judged unheard. Frequently, however, we speak of equity only in reference to positive laws. A human lawgiver is never able to foresee all the individual cases to which his law will be applied. Consequently, a law though just in general, may, taken literally, lead in some unforeseen cases to results which agree neither with the intent of the lawgiver nor with natural justice, but rather contravene them. In such cases the law must be expounded not according to its wording but according to the intent of the lawgiver and the general principles of natural justice. A reasonable lawgiver could not desire this law to be followed literally in cases where this would entail a violation of the principles of natural justice. Law in the strict sense (jus strictum) is, therefore, positive law in its literal interpretation; equity, on the contrary, consists of the principles of natural justice so far as they are used to explain or correct a positive human law if this is not in harmony with the former. For this reason Aristotle (Ethica Nicomachea, V, x) calls equity the correction (epanorthoma) of statute or written law.”


    See Also

    Dewey Decimal Classification
    Law Classification
    Moys Classification and Thesaurus for Legal Materials
    Classification for Law Libraries
    Comparative Law Classification (Max Planck Institute)
    Law Classification, Historical
    Public International Law Classification (Max Planck Institute)
    LC Classification on the Law of the Indigenous Peoples in the Americas
    International law classification: JX System
    Collection categories and entries
    Substance versus Procedure
    Public versus Private Law
    Lawyers Professional Conduct
    Lawi Index



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