The term “municipal law” is used in two different ways. In one sense, municipal law is simply any law which applies internally within a nation, in contrast with international law. The Constitution of Australia, for example, would be classified as municipal law because it is concerned with the internal governance of Australia. On the other hand, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is part of international law. In another sense, the term is used specifically to describe the body of law utilized within a given municipality.
The distinction between municipal and international law in the first sense is important. As a general rule, international law is deemed as binding and it will take precedent unless a nation can demonstrate that an aspect of a treaty or similar agreement runs contrary to one of its fundamental values. For example, in the unlikely event that an international law banning women from voting was passed, undoubtedly a number of nations would refuse to comply with it under the argument that it would undermine the value of equality which is enshrined in their cultural and legal precedents.
If there is a conflict between international and municipal law it may be necessary to bring it to an international court for arbitration if no agreement can be reached. International laws are usually structured in a way which is designed to avoid such conflicts. The drafting of international legal agreement is lengthy in part because of this reason, as each participant in the process must obtain approval from her or his home nation before moving forward.
In the sense of the laws within a municipality, municipal law includes the municipal code, ordinances, and other regulations along with bylaws. This law is usually established by a governing body within the municipality for the purpose of running the municipality smoothly and maintaining public order. Other laws can also apply within a municipality. For example, a city might not have a specific ordinance against murder, but if someone murdered someone within city limits, prosecution would take place under state or provincial law.
Violations of municipal law can subject people to various penalties such as fines or jail time. People should be aware that ignorance of local ordinances is not accepted as an excuse for violating them. Most municipal codes are reasonably similar but people who are not sure about the legality of a given activity should consult a lawyer.