About Public Law

This section provides an overview of public law issues. The Public Law project has published a number of short guides to public law - you can find them in our Resource Library here.

What is public law? 

Public law is the set of legal principles which govern the exercise of power by public bodies.

What are public bodies?

There are many public bodies of various kinds who take decisions every day which affect the lives of thousands of individuals. They include government ministers and departments, local authorities, the prison service, NHS Trusts, coroners' courts and many more.

What are public law remedies?

There are many procedures by which individuals can challenge the legality of decisions made by public bodies. They include:

  • Judicial review: court proceedings in which a judge is asked to review the lawfulness of the decision which is being challenged;

  • Complaints procedures such as the social service complaints procedure; and

  • Ombudsman schemes such as the Local Government Ombudsman, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration

Judicial review is indispensable in a democracy … It ensures that public bodies act according to law. They cannot be above the law. Ministers, who are politicians, often will be frustrated if their decisions are challenged or quashed, but that is an intrinsic aspect of government subject to the rule of law, as is the need for Ministers to be aware of their duty to comply with the law.

Lord Irvine of Lairg (former Lord Chancellor)