Quick Guide to the Different Types of Law in the UK

Quick Guide to the Different Types of Law in the UK

UK legal areas

Your knowledge of the numerous types of law expands exponentially when you start at university. It’s common for most people, who haven’t had experience with law to think that criminal law is the only kind.

There is a wide range of legal areas.

The following is a list of the main sorts of law you’re likely to come in contact with in the working world & academically. Although it’s not uncommon for each of these areas to be split up into more niche areas.

There are other areas, such as contract law, which we have left out – in practice contract law is a part of several legal areas rather than its own specific area. Check out some of the best contract law textbooks. You will notice there is significant cross over between the different types of law.

Since there are so many areas we will update this article over time.

Property Law

Property law deals with everything to do with the buying, sale and transfer of tangible and intangible assets. These transactions can be between a range of legal entities like individuals, business or charities. It also can deal with the rights of owners in regards to property they own (such as rights of access) or renting or leasing a property.

One of the most well known areas of property law is conveyancing – the transfer of legal title when you buy or sell a house. However that only makes up a tiny portion of property law as a whole – it isn’t limited to housing. There is also the law of trusts which can provide individuals with proprietary rights even though the legal formalities have not been completed.

See some property law textbooks.

EU Law

As you probably can guess, EU law looks at the legal elements of the European Union. The EU is capable of creating rights which can be enforced by citizens of EU member states. Business, pressure groups and governments will therefore be interested in solicitors and barristers who are knowledgeable of European law.

EU law can have an effect on employment rules, commercial activity, consumer rights, and protection of the environment. An example of this is the EU competition law which prevents firms abusing dominant market positions. It’s hard to think of other legal areas which have remained untouched by EU law.

Criminal Law

Probably the most well known area of law. Criminal law can range from serious crimes such as murder to less serious offences such as littering.  Criminal law isn’t limited to offences against individuals either – offences such as burglary, theft and arson are just as important.

Financial crimes such as fraud are also one of the many areas criminal lawyers work in. Working in criminal could involve prosecuting for the CPS or defending clients either with a private firm or with the Public Defender Service. It should be noted that a big part of the job will involve advocacy in front of either judges or magistrates – much more than a solicitor working in land law for example. Therefore individuals wanting to work in criminal law should have exceptional communication skills and have the ability to negotiate fiercely for their client (or the Crown).

See our selection of criminal law books.

Commercial Law

Commercial law governs the rules which corporations and businesses much follow when making transactions, sales and purchases. Commercial law can cover a range of other legal areas too such as health and safety, employment, copyright and tax law. As you can imagine, contract law is an essential part of commercial law due to the frequent sale and purchase of goods.

Within commercial law areas such as sports law, insurance law, tax law and international trade will be practised by lawyers who choose to specialise in those areas. This is necessary because commercial law is such a large area. No one solicitor could know everything to do with commercial law which is why they choose to specialise in one or two areas.

Personal Injury

Personal injury involves the law of Tort. It allows people to be held responsible for injuring others even where there isn’t a contractual relationship. Personal injury can include accidents pretty much anywhere – at the hospital, on the road, at work or even on the street. Compensation will usually be claimed if a claimant is successful in their action and claims can be brought either individually or by a group of people.

An example of this could be where several people witness a horrific accident and suffer psychiatric damage. In situations where there’s just a slip or a fall then the claim will usually just be brought by a single individual. Personal injury law relies heavily on insurers to provide compensation.

View some tort textbooks.

Administrative Law

Administrative law deals with the decisions of public bodies and whether they have violated any rights which have been given to them by parliament. This process is usually done through judicial review where judges will review legislation (both domestic and international) and decide whether a body has acted in accordance with it.

As a general rule judicial review won’t question the way a public body has come to its decision as long as it has rationally taken all relevant considerations into account and is acting in line with legislation. Here are some examples of decisions which could be questioned:

  • Revoking a traders licence because a member of the local council doesn’t like the trader.
  • A council building a certain structure even though there is no legislation saying they can do so.

However there are strict criteria which need to be met in order to question a decision – it’s not possible to question any decision you want.

Human Rights

Human rights law can have implications at national, European and international levels. Due to the recent “War on Terror” this area of law has been getting more attention but its impact has also been steadily increasing due to the Human Rights Act. Human rights can impact any number of other legal areas where an individuals human rights could be seen to have been breached. Examples of this could include discrimination in employment, excessive restrictions on freedom of expression and events which result in an unfair trail.

Human rights lawyers can also be involved with more international matters such as trade sanctions against countries with poor human rights records.

Maritime Law

Sometimes referred to as Admiralty law. This area of law deals with questions or disputes arising from activities which occur at sea or on boats. This area can include several of the other types of law mentioned on this page. For example injury on ships, disputes over shipping lanes, and shipping contracts fall under maritime law.

International law is also hugely important in Maritime law due to the importance of international trade. The same can be said  for the trade systems of the World Trade Organisation. As you can see a maritime lawyer will need knowledge covering several areas of law.

Family Law

Family law involves a wide range of family related difficulties. Family law can include:

  • Divorce
  • Injunctions
  • Co habitation
  • Civil partnerships
  • Adoption
  • Child abuse
  • Domestic abuse

Family law also will have crossover with other legal areas such as property law (as in the case of co habitation) and criminal law (in the case of child & domestic abuse). Wills and trusts are also a big part of family law so again, there is significant crossover which requires a family lawyer to be knowledgeable of other areas of law. Experts such as psychologists and doctors will be consulted throughout family law matters; especially in relation to  matters involving children.

Employment Law

All about issues arising from the workplace it covers all stages of employment and relationships between employers and employees. Employment law can cover issues such as terms of employment, redundancy, health & safety and trade unions. These areas mentioned could all require specialist solicitors or barristers – so it’s a vary big area with huge scope for specialisation.

Working in employment law you will usually need to decide which side you want to represent – the employer or the employee. For example, if you work for the Citizens Advice Bureau you will nearly always be working for the employee, but if you’re in a large commercial firm then you will probably only take on clients who are employers. So keep this in mind when considering where you want to take your training contract.

Intellectual Property

IP is all about the ownership of ideas, products of the mind and other intangible assets. There are two main areas of IP – industrial property such as designs, patents and trade marks. And copyright which involves artistic work such as paintings, films and books.  IP law is there to protect ideas and to let people own what they create.

Working in IP could involve the provision of advice to a client who wants to protect their ideas. It could also be more complex such as a case where some sort of dispute over patents arises. IP has a strong international element to it, so some international travel could be expected. You may even have to understand the way which other legal systems work. Many businesses regardless of size have IP, so you could be dealing with a local company, a large international brand, and everything in between.

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