‘Private law’ is traditionally conceived of as the body of law which deals with the relationships between private individuals. The concept of private law dates back to Roman times. Roman law divided private law into contract, delict (wrongs) and quasi-contract.
Private law in Australian law covers to a greater or lesser degree the laws of contract, tort (wrongs), equity and trusts, unjust enrichment, and property law. Intellectual property law, competition law, corporations law, succession law and family law also raise issues of private law.
Private law protects individual rights and interests in society, including the right to bodily integrity; property rights in goods and land; property rights in ideas and inventions; the right to reputation; the right to privacy; the right to fair process; the interest in having voluntarily undertaken agreements performed; and a variety of other economic interests. The law achieves this via the law of tort (wrongs), the law of contract, and by statutory private law regulation, including consumer law, and intellectual property law.
Private law places obligations on individuals: people are generally supposed to perform their contracts, for example, and are expected to make amends if they do not. On the other hand, people are not supposed to hurt others negligently, or to defraud beneficiaries if they are a trustee, or trespass on someone’s property without consent.
Private law also provides means by which individuals can order their affairs, and use certain legal structures to achieve commercial or societal aims. Thus, individuals may enter into contracts and deeds, create trusts, or they may form corporations and associations.
Property law, unjust enrichment law, equity law, family law and succession law seek to regulate the fair distribution of property or benefits between individuals.
Finally, competition law and consumer law try to ensure the market operates efficiently and fairly so that consumers or companies are not disadvantaged, and individual economic interests are sufficiently protected.