Public Law: Definition and Meaning

Public law primarily concerns the use and exercise of authority by public authorities, including local councils and governmental agencies. Power can be challenged when it is used improperly or when the decision-making process is unfair or just. If there is no other remedy available or all other remedies have been exhausted, judicial review may be used to challenge a public body's decision.

What is Public Law?

Public law is the area of law that regulates interactions between those who have a significant influence on society and the State (i.e., the government and its agencies). Public law, in the words of Loughlin, "may be a sort of political jurisprudence which incorporates no transcendental or metaphysical conception of justice and goodness; it's concerned solely with all of these precepts of conduct which have evolved through political practice to ensure the maintenance of the public sphere as an independent entity."

Such law must be followed by public entities like the federal and municipal governments and common people. Public law is the field of law that regulates how public entities act. Public law guarantees that public bodies behave morally, logically, legally, fairly, and in a way that respects the rights of people they may impact.

Those affected by a public body's unlawful behavior or decision have a number of options for challenging it. These comprise −

  • Utilizing the Ombudsman or the complaints process of public bodies. 

  • Utilizing one's right to appeal to a court or tribunal (if such rights exist in relation to the particular decision to be challenged, such as in welfare benefits cases) pleading a public body to reconsider its judgment.

  • Through a procedure known as judicial review.

There are various explanations that define how public law differs from private law. Although they have changed over time, it is generally agreed upon that they combine the subjection theory and subject theory.

Subjection Hypothesis Relationship between people are normally governed by private law whereas those between people and the state or government are governed by public law.
Subject Theory Public law is in effect if a person is a member of a public body.

These two theories work together to describe public law as an area where an actor is a power with the ability to act unilaterally. Public law is applicable if this authority is functioning as a public body.

History of Public Law

Ulpian, a Roman jurist, was the first to draw a distinction between public and private law, saying in his Institutes that "Public law is that which respects the establishment of the Roman commonwealth, and private that which respects individuals' interests, some matters being of public and others of private interest." In addition, he describes public law as the legislation governing clerical functions, government offices, and religious matters.

  • Roman law saw interactions between people and other people, between people and things, and between people and the state as the foundation of the law.

  • The last of these three ties was public law.

  • Roman lawyers, on the other hand, paid little attention to this field and mostly concentrated on topics of private law.

However, as highlighted by German legal historian Otto von Gierke, who referred to the Teutons as the "fathers of public law," it was of utmost significance in Teutonic culture.

Significance of Public Law

To maintain a healthy and friendly relationship between the government and the people, public law is important. The only entity with the authority to decide on an individual's rights is the government; however, government is also bound by the law and under the supervision of the government. If a citizen disagrees with a judgment made by an authority body, they may request judicial review.

  • Public law attorneys may focus on different legal disciplines, such as constitutional/administrative law, tax law, and criminal law. These legal specialties are a little different. For instance, if you worked in constitutional or administrative law, you might collaborate with the National Health Service, the city council, or other governmental organizations.

  • Criminal defense attorneys handle every facet of a case, including the investigation, coordinating with the police, and appeals. There are typically several criminal law involves a lot of paperwork.


Law and rights are the framework in which the principles of law develop because, in every legal system, command governs how people interact with one another and with the government. The ability of the state to rule the nation, including the power to make, execute, apply, repeal, and otherwise change the law, is referred to as "public law." This area of law is also known as administrative law, which sets the legal responsibilities and authority of specific public authorities and bodies, as well as constitutional law, which establishes the foundational institutions of the state.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q1. Which source of public law is the most significant?

Ans. A strong source of law is legislation. It ties the entire community together in theory. Courts are entities that regularly enforce the law. Judges and magistrates review the law, common law norms, and custom that are relevant to the specific matter at hand, just like all lawyers do.

Q2. What makes it public law?

Ans. Government agencies, including the federal and municipal governments, must abide by the law. The term "public law" refers to the category of laws that control how public entities behave.

Q3. What does public law seek to achieve?

Ans. Controlling the abuse of authority by public bodies is the goal of public law. Departments, agencies, and even government ministers may fall under this category.

Q4. What does the term "Public law" mean?

Ans. Public law is the area of the law that regulates how individuals interact with one another and how the State (government/government agencies) interacts with its subjects.

Updated on: 13-Mar-2023


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