Public and Private Law Proceedings – A brief overview

Bromleys Solicitors LLP

Family law is split into two areas of law; private law and public law. At Bromleys, we have dedicated teams that deal with both areas, but which one do you need help from?

What is Private Law?

Private law governs interactions between individuals, and the application before a court will in the first instance be from one person against another. A common example is an application for contact with a child. The parent who seeks the contact would make an application to the court against the parent/guardian with whom the child usually lives. In doing so, they are asking the court to order that contact takes place and the resident parent makes the child available for it.

There are many examples of private law applications within family law proceedings, but the above is one of the most common.

Other common private law applications include:

  • Applications dealing with how much time a child should spend with each parent;
  • Applications dealing with whom a child should live;
  • Applications dealing with specific issues, such as the child’s surname and how they should be known, or which school they should attend;
  • Applications can also be made to prevent something from happening. Applications of this nature may be to prevent a parent removing a child from the jurisdiction, or from an educational setting.

Many applications are covered by the umbrella term of ‘private law’. If you are unsure whether your query relates to this, do not worry, as our team of experts will be able to advise you.

What is Public Law?

Public law in family proceedings is when a local authority is involved. Usually they issue proceedings to the court which are known as care proceedings. Local authorities are commonly known as ‘social services’. Every area has its own local authority. The most common application a local authority will make is to the family court for an interim order that would remove the child from a parent’s care and place them either with another family member or into foster care. That isn’t, however, the only application that can be made.

Common public law applications include:

  • Applications by a local authority for care/supervision orders which may include an application to remove a child from the care of their parent or parents;
  • Applications made by parents to discharge a care order in force;
  • Applications under the Children Act 1989 for contact applications relating to children in care;
  • Applications for placement orders (orders that free children for adoption).

In both private and public family law, the court is concerned primarily with the welfare of the child(ren). There are often occasions whereby the two areas of law interlink; you can have private law proceedings that turn into public law proceedings, and equally you can a local authority involved in private law proceedings. It is, therefore, quite confusing, and a legal minefield at times.

There are different rules in relation to Legal Aid which depend on the type of proceedings in which you find yourself involved. It is generally much harder to access Legal Aid in private law proceedings (albeit it is available in some certain circumstances) whereas, in standalone care proceedings, it is granted to parents upon completion of the necessary application. It is therefore important that you speak to a solicitor who will be able to advise you in relation to legal aid and whether you would be likely to receive it in your case.

How we can help

To find out how we can assist, contact our experts on our dedicated helplines: For private law contact our family team on o161 331 3887.   For public law contact our care proceedings and children services team on 0161 694 4149 for your free initial telephone discussion.  If you aren’t sure which area of law you need help with, simply telephone our main number 0161 330 6821, fill in our online form or alternatively, you can email us on and we’ll call you back.

Related articles of interest

What is Legal Aid, and who is entitled to it?

We’re living together but are not married. What are my legal rights?

Why parents involved in Public Law Outline process need legal representation