Law Classification

Classification of law

Current Information Technologies and Web-based services need to manage,
select and filter increasing amounts of textual information. Text classifi-
cation allows users, through navigation on class hierarchies, to browse more
easily the texts of their interests. This paradigm is very effective both in
filtering information as in the development of online end-user services.

Classification of law in the Encyclopedia of Law include:

Legal history
Legal systems
Administration of justice
Public law
Constitutional law
Administrative law , including Public regulation and provision of public services
International law, including Public international law and Private International Law
Tax law
Criminal law
Criminal procedure
Civil procedure (see also Procedure in general)
Private law, including Private law: property and Private law: obligations
Commercial law
Business law (including business organizations)
Conflict of laws, including Conflict of laws: property and Conflict of laws: obligations.

From Gaius up to the present day, having in view only the streams of law with
which our own is affiliated, much has been written on arrangements of the law.(1)

Law classification in general

“Law can be divided up in a number of ways. It can be divided into ‘statute law’ and ‘ Common law ‘, and can also be divided into ‘public law’ and ‘private law’. Under this system, public law deals with relations between individuals and the state, and private law deals with relations between individuals (meaning individual people or organisations). Another way to think about the law and what it does is to look at what sort of behaviour or relationships it deals with”(for example, criminal law or Administrative law ).(2)

The process of classification is a helpful way of obtaining an overview or general view of law for the purposes of teaching or Learning , but it is a somewhat artificial exercise and does not produce an absolute and infallible categorisation of the law.

Factual situations that arise in real life often do not fit neatly and exactly into only a single one of these categories of law. In fact, they are far more likely to involve two or more different topics of law.

However, for the purposes of teaching and Learning , these classifications are useful in that they break up the whole mass of law into manageable portions, and they provide some framework and structure.

International law is sometimes also subdivided into:

– regional law, i.e. the law operating outside the country to regulate matters within a particular region of the world, e.g. South Pacific region, Asia/Pacific region, Western Europe; and

– universal law, i.e. the law operating outside a country to regulate matters wherever they occur in the world.

Domestic or municipal law is the law that operates within a country. Such law is national (applying throughout the whole country) or regional (applying within a particular section of the country such as a state, province, or district). At the most immediate level of administration, such regional law is often called local law, since it is law that operates only within a certain limited area or locality within a country, such as a subdistrict, shire, municipality, city, or town.

Classification based on the sources of the law

Introduced law in other regions is based upon the systems of law in Europe.
Customary or indigenous law, on the other hand, is what remains operative from whatever law was in operation before the introduction of English, European-style, or whatever other style law was introduced. Such customary law consists mainly of unwritten customs enforced by traditional leaders.

Another classification based on the sources of the law in the system is the division of law into Common law on the one hand, and Civil (or Continental or European) Law on the other.

Subject matter of law

A very common way of classifying laws, especially in the context of teaching and learning law, is to set up the categories on the basis of the subject matter that the laws deal with. It is usual to recognise that the subject matter of laws can be classified into the following main categories:

contracts law;
torts law;
property law;
family law;
business or Commercial law ;
criminal law;
constitutional law;
administrative law;
tax law;
planning law;
law of procedure; and
law of evidence.

Planning law is the law concerned with planning the use of land (see planning legislation).

Law of procedure regulates the way in which proceedings are brought in the courts. Usually the topic is divided into civil procedure or the law of civil procedure, and criminal procedure or the law of criminal procedure.

Law of Evidence is the body of law regulating the evidence that can be produced to a court in the course of civil and criminal proceedings. Basically, it is concerned with such matters as relevance, admissibility and reliability of evidence, and the competence and compellability of witnesses. These laws are found partly in the common law and partly in the enacted law.

Public law

Public law governs relationships between individuals and the state and includes
criminal, administrative and constitutional law.

  • Criminal law: See criminal law. Criminal law, criminal procedure, and some aspects of the law of evidence may be regarded as failing into criminal law category
  • Administrative law: Administrative law is the area of law that deals with
    government powers and decisions made by government bodies.
  • Constitutional law: It is the branch of public law that focuses on the Constitution.

Private law

The aim of private law is to regulate relationships between individual persons, companies and organisations. Private rights are protected by both statute and common law. When an individual brings a court action against another individual for
infringement of his or her private rights, it must be in a court exercising civil jurisdiction and the action is known as a civil proceeding. Three major areas of civil law are contract law, tort law and property law.

Criminal and civil procedures

Key differences include:

• Criminal cases feature a prosecutor and a defendant.
• Civil cases feature a plaintiff and a defendant.
• In criminal cases, usually the state brings the case to court.
• In civil cases, an individual or organisation brings the case to court.
• In criminal cases, the onus is on the prosecutor to prove the case.
• In civil cases, the onus is on the plaintiff to prove the case.
• In criminal cases, the standard of proof that applies is that the prosecutor must
prove the case beyond reasonable doubt (this is a higher standard of proof than is
required in civil cases.).
• In civil cases, the standard of proof a plaintiff must meet is the balance of

Criminal and civil law can overlap. The victim of a crime whose case has been heard in criminal court may also wish to take the case to civil court to obtain compensation for injuries suffered as a result of the defendant’s conduct. In both cases, however, the legal outcome will be decided according to the adversarial system of trial. This means
a judge, and sometimes a jury, hears both sides of the case as put forward by representatives of the parties involved.

Criminal procedure

Criminal law proceedings are the legal processes in which a person accused of a crime is prosecuted to secure a conviction and punishment, such as a fine or imprisonment.
See Criminal trial process.

Civil procedure

Civil proceedings are court actions that are the result of disputes between individuals. Unlike some criminal proceedings, they are initiated by individuals or organisations, rather than the state, and they deal with such matters as breach of contract,
property disputes and negligence. The person who initiates the civil action, called ‘the plaintiff’, will start proceedings against to the party who has committed the
breach or the wrong. This party is called ‘the defendant’ and may be an individual or an organisation.

Common and civi l law systems

Most countries throughout the world use a system of law based on the common and civil principles of law or a combination of both.

The term ‘civil law’ sometime s causes confusion. For example, in the Australian legal system it refers to private law (i.e. disputes between individuals). However,
the term ‘civil law’ also describes the legal systems of those countries that have developed from the Roman law system instead of the English common
law system.

Currently, countries such as France, Germany and Italy use civil law. The countries
which use civil law often have an inquisitorial system of trial as opposed to the common law adversarial system.

In an inquisitorial system of trial, the judge collects the evidence for both sides in a dispute, and is actively involved in the fact-finding task.




1. Classification of Law. A Kocourek – NYULQ Rev., 1933

2. Australian Legal System, Hot Topics 79, 2011, pg 6

See Also

“Classification of Law”, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Publication, Vol. 4, Mar., 1894, Pages 42-56, Russell H. Curtis

About the Author/s and Rewiever/s

Author: international

References and Further Reading

About the Author/s and Reviewer/s

Author: international

Mentioned in these Entries

Administrative law, American Convention on Human Rights, Cataloging for legal materials, Classification for Law Libraries, Classification of Law Materials, Codification, Commercial law, Common law, Comparative Law Classification (Max Planck Institute), Continental Shelf, Dewey Decimal Classification, Diplomatic and Consular Relations, Education, European Convention on Human Rights, Exclusive Economic Zone, French Legal System, General Division Classification (Max Planck Institute), High Seas, History of International Law, International Criminal Court, International Criminal Law, International Organizations, International law classification: JX System, Judicature, LC Classification on the Law of the Indigenous Peoples in the Americas, Labor law, Law Classification, Historical, Law vs. law, Learning, Legal topics, Library of Congress Classification Class K, Linked Data Principles to Legal Information, Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, Moys Classification and Thesaurus for Legal Materials, Municipal law Classification (Max Planck Institute), Obligations: Classification, Private International Law, Public International Law Classification (Max Planck Institute), Refugees, Rights and the Law Classification, Historical, Settlement of Disputes, Treaties, country.



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