What are the two classification of law?


What are the two classification of law?

It is not possible to enumerate accurately the number of the different kinds of law. Laws are various. You will recall in our attempt to define law what Blackstone thought law was. He said that law in its most general and comprehensive sense signifies a rule of action, and is applied indiscriminately to all kinds of action, whether animate or inanimate, rational or irrational.

The scope and extent of this definition or description of law suffices to inform you that law can be used in a wide range of senses. We can only attempt to identify a number of them.

The objective of this article is that participants should be able to trace the source of law; and its authority and so be able to distinguish legal rules from metaphysical or external rules or legal from non-legal source and what is law from non-law.

Classification of law

What are the two classification of law?

A. Classes of Law

There are no criteria for classifying law, laid down in Statute or specified by Court. Different writers have classified aw at their discretion and by different methods.

For example, law may be classified according to the mode of development as follows:

Common law


Legislation (including delegated legislation) Custom

The Law Merchant

Canon Law

Legal treaties

Another method of classification of law is into:

Law in action (i.e. legislation, law reform and judicial precedent)

Criminal law Law of Contract Law of Tort

Law of Property

Negotiable Instrument

Other writers have taken a global view of law and have classified law as follows:

1. Imperative Law: Commands of a sovereign or rules of action imposed on people by some authority that enforces obedience. John Austin expressed this in terms of a Command set, either directly or circuitously by a sovereign individual or body to a member or members of some independent political society in which his authority is supreme. Examples are the law of the land – Civil Law.

2. Physical Law: This covers a wide range of laws including Laws of Gravitation; of Motion, of Nature, of Nations. It also includes law of mechanics. These laws are expressions of uniformities founded upon observations of regularity and harmony in the universe.

3. Natural Law: Also called Lex Eterna and it includes:

(i) Physical law of nature e.g. law of gravitation

(ii) Principle of what is right or wrong; Ideal form of law, Higher law.

A system of legal and moral principles purportedly deriving from a universalized conception of human nature or divine justice. At different times natural law took the forms of divine law, law of reason, unwritten law, universal law, eternal law and moral law.

4. Conventional Law: Law of agreement; Rules of games and sports, clubs or society.

5. Customary Law: Code of conduct, mores; - law which men set for themselves voluntarily and obey under pain of censure or coercion. They are rules, which in a particular community, has from long usage obtained the force of law. 

It includes Islamic Law and those local customs, which are not repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience or incompatible with any law for the time being in force or contrary to public policy. It is law per excellence being a reflection or mirror of the common consciousness of the people.

6. Technical Law: The rules guiding persons who are engaged in a particular trade or profession if they are to practice that calling effectively well. Examples are Rules and regulations, which guide Legal Practitioners, Engineers, and Architects etc in the fulfillment of their trade practices or professions.


Read on: What is the Most Important Feature of Law?

B.  International Law

This refers to the Law of nations; Common law of Nations; the principal subjects of which are nation-states, Particular Law of Nations between two or more countries. This type of law may be enforced by:

(i) Economic sanction

(ii) Severance or break-up of relations or ties

(iii) Arbitration by the International Court of Justice at The Hague or other tribunal e.g. War Tribunal established by United Nations Organisaton (UNO)

(iv) Use of Force or military action.

International Law itself is divided into

(a) Conflict of laws (or private international law as it is sometimes called) and

(b) Public international law (usually just termed International Law).

1. Substantive Law: This is part of the law that creates, defines and regulates legal relationships, powers, rights, and obligations and liabilities of parties e.g. Criminal law and Penal Code, Laws of Contract, of Agency, of Commercial Transactions or business Associations etc.

Substantive law prescribes those rules of civil conduct, which declare the rights and duties of all who are subject to the law.

2. Procedural Law: Laws of Procedure are rules that prescribe the steps that require to be taken for purpose of having a right or duty judicially enforced, as opposed to the law that defines the specific rights or duties themselves. Also called Adjectival law as it prescribes enforcement process and practice in Courts.

Examples of procedural or adjectival laws are Criminal Procedure Act, Criminal Procedure Code, Evidence Act, etc.

The distinction between Substantive law and Procedural Law must be clearly drawn. Glanville Williams states: “so far as the administration of justice is concerned with the application of remedies to violated rights, we may say that the substantive law defines the remedy and the right, while the law of Procedure defines the modes and conditions of the application of the one to the other”.

In essence, procedural law relates to remedial agencies and procedure by which rights are maintained, their invasion redressed and the methods by which such results are accomplished in Courts.

3. Civil Law: Civil law deals with rules for dealing with rights and duties between individuals. It is concerned with disputes between citizens, the purpose being to enable people to enforce their rights, to redress a grievance or to recover property for their own benefit. Municipal law or law of State is an example of Civil Law. 

The terms may also be used so as to distinguish the laws under reference from the Criminal Law e.g. Laws of Tort; of Contract; Law of Courts, Military law, Canon law, etc. See the Federal Republic of Nigeria Constitution, 1999, See 33 & 45.


Also read: Law making process in Military Regime in Nigeria

Conclusion on what are the two classification of law

You have reopened the discussion on law in this article. The focus was classification of law. You noticed how difficult it has been to departmentalize law. You probably faced challenges when one addresses some particular laws and attempt some form of classification in order to increase your understanding of “law”.

We have dealt with ten different types or classes of law. These classes are neither exhaustive nor necessarily co-terminous. A substantive law or procedural law may be imperative law and vice versa. Mercantile law or lex mercantile is based on mercantile customs and usages but it developed independently of the Common law. Imperial law is a formal law, co-existing with informal law in most communities in Nigeria. Despite these evidences of interrelationship, it is still possible to differentiate one class from another class of law; giving examples or illustrations of each of them.

In the next article, we shall conclude the lesion on the classes of law.

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