Types of laws

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Various kinds of law exist in Australia. It can help to think of the law as grouped into categories.

Classification by type can help lawyers, judges and other legal professionals to interpret the law. It also makes it easier to recognise when similar situations arise, so that similar solutions can be achieved.

The type of law can determine which court will hear a complaint. For more about the different courts in Victoria, visit our Courts & tribunals page.

Different classifications of law

The following are some of the more common types of law.

Public law vs. private law

  • Public laws relate to matters affecting your entire community (for example, laws about criminal activity or the environment).
  • Private laws are most relevant to individuals (for example, laws dealing with property ownership or employment contracts).

Civil law vs. criminal law

  • Civil laws deal with the enforcement of the rights of individuals (for example, laws that deal with families or defamation).
  • Criminal laws relate to matters affecting the stability and peacefulness of the community (for example, the laws against theft and murder).

Common law vs. statute law

  • A statute law is one that is developed and adopted by an act of parliament. To find out more about the Victorian Parliament, visit our Parliament & the law page.
  • A common law is one that is developed in response to the rulings of the court. 

State vs. Federal law

  • State laws operate within the boundaries of the state whose parliament or courts developed the law. An example of a state-based law is the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (.pdf, 1198KB). 
  • Federal laws apply throughout Australia. An example of a Federal law is the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (new window), which deals with consumer law throughout Australia.

Whether a law is state or federal determines which court will consider the breaking or alleged breaking of that law. 

Other types of law

The types of law listed above are not the only classifications used when considering laws. Some other examples of types of law include:

  • Equal opportunity law - dealing with issues relating to all forms of discrimination, both in the workplace and in society in general.
  • Tort laws - relating to issues of trespass, nuisance, defamation and negligence.
  • Industrial law - dealing with issues arising in the workplace, including long service leave entitlements, employer-employee relations, and occupational health and safety.
  • Family law - dealing with laws that relate to marriage, divorce, separation, adoption, guardianship of minors, access to and custody of children, division of property and maintenance payments.
  • Consumer law - concerning issues relating to your rights as a consumer.
  • Taxation law - federally based laws relating to the amount of money that organisations and individuals are required to pay to the government each year.
  • Environmental law - relating to the impact that the behaviour of individuals and organisations has on the environment.

Links

Victorian Legislation and Parliamentary Documents
List of Victorian laws and bills currently under consideration in the Victorian Parliament.

Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission
Dealing with issues related to equal opportunity, including advice on the complaints process.

The Family Court of Australia
Information about family law disputes in Australia, including a step-by-step guide to Family Court proceedings and an information page for children.

Consumer Action Law Centre
Independent non-government organisation providing advice and information about consumer rights and consumer legislation.