What is Private Law? Branches of Private Law, Disputes and Remedies

What is Private Law

Private law governs relationships and disputes between private individuals or entities, encompassing contracts, property, trusts, torts, and family law.

Private Law Legal Definition

Private Law can be defined as that part of a legal system that governs relationships between individuals, whether they be natural persons or legal entities.

It primarily deals with personal, property, and liability matters, providing a framework for individuals to assert their rights, seek remedies, and resolve disputes.

Private Law plays a pivotal role in our daily lives. It encompasses the rules and regulations that dictate how individuals, organizations, and other private entities relate to each other.

Contrasted with Public Law, which involves the relationship between the individual and the state, Private Law has a wide-ranging scope intertwined with various facets of human interaction.

Branches of Private Law

There are several primary branches, each with its unique characteristics and rules:

  • Contract Law: Deals with forming, interpreting, and enforcing contracts. It lays out the requirements for a valid contract and provides remedies for breach.
  • Property Law: Governs the ownership and transfer of property, tangible (like a car or house) and intangible (like intellectual property rights).
  • Tort Law: Concerns wrongful acts leading to injury or harm, making the person who commits the act liable. Common torts include negligence, defamation, and trespass.
  • Family Law: Addresses issues within families, including marriage, divorce, child custody, and adoption.
  • Succession Law: Deals with the distribution of a deceased person’s estate.
  • Trust Law: Involves the creation and management of trusts.

Characteristics of Private Law

  • Bilateral Relationship: In most cases, Private Law regulates relationships between two parties. For instance, a contract usually involves an agreement between two individuals or entities.
  • Autonomy: It often respects autonomy, allowing parties to create their arrangements, like setting terms in a contract. The law steps in primarily to ensure fairness and justice.
  • Compensation: A key feature is the compensation for wrongs. If someone breaches a contract or commits a tort, the victim can often seek damages.

The Interplay between Private and Public Law

While the distinction is clear on paper, Private and Public Law often overlap in real-world scenarios.

For instance, a breach of contract might not just lead to a private lawsuit but could also result in criminal charges if there’s fraud involved. Public laws, such as regulations on business practices, often influence private relationships.

Importance of Private Law

  • Promoting Fairness: Setting clear rules and standards it ensures individuals and entities interact with each other fairly.
  • Protecting Rights: It safeguards individual rights, like the right to ownership or enter into and enforce contracts.
  • Facilitating Commerce: Standardised rules on contracts and property rights it help facilitate trade and commerce.
  • Resolving Disputes: Provides avenues for individuals to resolve disputes, whether through negotiation, mediation, arbitration, or litigation.

The Evolution of Private Law

Like all legal disciplines, Private Law doesn’t remain static. It evolves to reflect societal changes, economic developments, and technological advances. For instance, new questions about property rights (like digital ownership) and contract formation (like e-contracts) have emerged with the advent of the digital age.

What Are The Primary Remedies Available In Private Law Disputes?

In private law disputes, the primary remedies aim to redress the harm suffered by the aggrieved party. Compensatory damages are the most common, intending to compensate the injured party for their loss or injury monetarily.

Specific performance requires the breaching party to fulfil their end of an agreement, particularly used in cases where monetary damages are inadequate, such as unique property sales.

Restitution seeks to restore the aggrieved party to their position before the harm, typically by returning a specific item or its equivalent value.

Injunctions are court orders that compel a party to do or refrain from specific actions, often used in tort cases or intellectual property disputes.

Declaratory judgments provide a definitive statement of parties’ rights in controversy but don’t necessarily order any action or award damages. These remedies ensure justice, equity, and resolution in private law disputes.

How Are Civil Partnerships And Their Internal Relations Governed By Private Law?

Governed by private law, civil partnerships establish the rights and responsibilities of partners towards each other. Private law outlines how assets and liabilities are shared, the duties of support and care, and provisions for children within the partnership.

Civil partners might have similar rights to married couples regarding property, inheritance, and pension benefits, depending on the jurisdiction.

Internal relations within civil partnerships, such as financial support, property rights, and potential dissolution processes, are usually determined by specific legislation and contractual agreements between the parties.

In disputes, the law offers mechanisms for resolution, either through mediation, arbitration, or court intervention.

How Does Succession or Inheritance Law Fit Into Private Law?

Succession or inheritance law, a pivotal component of private law, governs the transfer of a person’s assets, rights, and obligations upon their death.

Rooted in private rights and interpersonal relationships, succession dictates how an individual’s property is distributed among heirs or beneficiaries, whether in accordance with a will or as per statutory rules in the absence of one.

This law ensures that a person’s wishes regarding asset distribution are honoured while also providing a framework for instances where no clear intent is documented.

It addresses issues like the validity of wills, rights of heirs, duties of executors, and the resolution of potential disputes among beneficiaries.

Thus, succession law in this context serves dual purposes: respecting individual autonomy in property disposition post-mortem and providing a structured, fair process for transfer and distribution in the event of uncertainties or disputes.

Challenges and Critiques

Some criticisms include its complex nature, which can sometimes make it inaccessible to the layperson, and the potential for the more powerful party in a relationship (like a big corporation in a contract) to exert undue influence.

However, legal reforms and robust judicial oversight often aim to mitigate these issues.


Private Law is the backbone of our interpersonal relationships, whether economic, personal, or familial.

By understanding its intricacies, we become more informed citizens and better equipped to navigate the myriad private relationships that colour our lives.

Whether signing a lease, buying a car, or even borrowing a book, the shadows of Private Law are always present, guiding and safeguarding our interactions.

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