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Private Law vs. Public Law: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 4, 2024
Private Law governs relationships between individuals; Public Law governs relationships between individuals and the state.

Key Differences

Private law pertains to legal relationships between private citizens, such as contracts and property. Public law, conversely, involves the state and includes constitutional, administrative, and criminal law.
In private law, disputes are typically between individuals or organizations, focusing on issues like negligence or breach of contract. Public law deals with matters that affect society as a whole, like regulations and public policies.
The role of the state in private law is usually as an arbitrator or enforcer, rather than a direct party. In public law, the state is a key player, either as a regulator or as a party in legal proceedings.
Remedies in private law often involve compensation or restitution to the aggrieved party. In public law, remedies can include fines, imprisonment, or changes in policies or regulations.
Enforcement of private law is generally initiated by the individuals involved. Public law enforcement is typically undertaken by government agencies or officials.

Comparison Chart

Parties Involved

Individuals or organizations
Individuals and the state


Personal disputes, property, contracts
Constitutional, administrative, criminal law

State's Role

Arbitrator, law enforcer
Regulator, participant

Typical Remedies

Compensation, restitution
Fines, imprisonment, policy changes

Enforcement Initiation

By individuals
By government agencies

Private Law and Public Law Definitions

Private Law

Concerned with rights and obligations of individuals.
The inheritance dispute was settled through the principles of private law.

Public Law

Deals with matters affecting society and public interest.
Public law determined the legality of new environmental regulations.

Private Law

Involves civil suits where the government is not a party.
A tenant suing a landlord for not returning a deposit is a matter of private law.

Public Law

Often involves penalties like fines or imprisonment.
Sentencing a convicted felon to prison is an exercise of public law.

Private Law

Regulates relationships and disputes between private individuals.
A lawsuit over a breached contract is an example of private law.

Public Law

Includes constitutional, administrative, and criminal law.
A criminal prosecution for theft is governed by public law.

Private Law

Encompasses laws that govern personal interests.
Private law governed the dispute between two neighbors over property boundaries.

Public Law

The state acts as regulator or enforcer.
Imposing fines for pollution violations is an action under public law.

Private Law

Covers areas like contracts, property, and family matters.
A divorce case falls under the purview of private law.

Public Law

Involves legal relationships between individuals and the government.
A case challenging a new tax law falls under public law.


What areas does public law cover?

Public law covers areas like constitutional law, administrative law, and criminal law.

How does private law differ from public law in terms of parties involved?

Private law involves disputes between private individuals or entities, while public law involves the state.

Can private law involve government entities?

Rarely, as private law typically deals with private parties, but governments can be involved in contractual disputes.

What types of cases fall under private law?

Cases like contract disputes, property issues, and family law are under private law.

What is the role of the state in public law?

The state can be a regulator, a party to disputes, or an enforcer in public law.

Are human rights issues a part of public law?

Yes, human rights issues are typically addressed within the scope of public law.

How does criminal law fit into public law?

Criminal law, dealing with crimes against society, is a central component of public law.

Does private law include tort law?

Yes, tort law, involving personal injuries or negligence, is a part of private law.

What is administrative law in the context of public law?

Administrative law deals with the actions and regulations of government agencies.

Is environmental law a part of public law?

Yes, environmental law, involving regulations and policies on natural resources, is a part of public law.

How does public law impact society?

Public law shapes policies, regulations, and legal standards that affect the entire society.

Are contract laws private or public?

Contract laws are part of private law, governing agreements between private parties.

Does private law include inheritance issues?

Yes, matters of inheritance and estates are governed by private law.

Can private law cases influence public policy?

Yes, significant private law cases can sometimes influence public policy or lead to legal reforms.

Are property disputes a matter of private or public law?

Property disputes are usually a matter of private law.

What role do courts play in public law?

Courts interpret, apply, and enforce public laws and regulations.

Can individuals sue the government under private law?

Suing the government typically falls under public law, particularly in administrative or constitutional law contexts.

Do traffic violations fall under public law?

Yes, traffic violations are regulated and enforced under public law.

Are employment disputes private or public law matters?

Most employment disputes are private law matters, but some aspects can involve public law, like labor regulations.

Is tax law considered public law?

Yes, tax law is a part of public law as it involves the state's power to collect revenue.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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