This contribution offers an explanation of credit derivatives as a group of financial instruments having a common purpose being the managing of credit exposures, and thus credit or default risk. This paper explores the links between their economic and financial manifestations and the legal bases for their widespread application. To ensure an understanding of the purposes served by each of the main types of credit derivatives, a detailed scrutiny of individual instruments is undertaken. Issues relating law and economics to trading in this type of derivative are investigated, then pricing issues and empirical evidence are considered. A summary brings together the range of features bearing upon the effective development of a market in these financial instruments.