The Basics of Law
Law is the body of rules, principles and policies that regulate how people interact with each other and the institutions of society. It serves four principal functions: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.
It can be divided into three areas: criminal law, civil law and international law. Each of these branches has its own laws, regulations and court procedures that govern the practice of law.
Criminal law deals with the punishment of offenders. This can include prison sentences or fines. In addition, it covers the law that regulates crime and terrorism, including murder, arson and sexual abuse.
Legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology are important sources of scholarly inquiry into law. It also raises significant issues relating to equality, fairness and justice.
In most countries, a judicial system is established to interpret and enforce a country’s laws. It is the result of a complex and often contentious political process.
Common law systems, which are the majority of legal systems worldwide, adopt a system of “law” that recognizes both statutes adopted through the legislative process and judge-made precedent as the authoritative form of law. The latter is a rule that binds lower courts and future decisions of the same court, to ensure that similar cases reach comparable results.
The “doctrine of precedent” also applies in civil law jurisdictions. This means that a court’s decision is considered to be law on equal footing with legislative statutes and regulations, as long as it is consistent with the facts and legal principles involved in the case.
A jury is a group of citizens who listen to evidence and decide on a case based on that evidence. It is made up of 12 or more people, each of whom has a right to be heard and to make decisions about the case.
Appeals, also called writs of error or errors and appeals, are requests made by a party to the case to have another court consider the case on different terms or interpretations of law. Usually an appeal is made when the trial court does not follow the law properly or when a person believes a court’s judgment was based on flawed reasoning.
Jurisdiction, or the jurisdiction of a court, is the geographic area over which a court has authority to hear and decide a case. This may include federal and state courts as well as regional or local courts.
Public defenders, who represent defendants who cannot afford to hire an attorney, are an important part of criminal law. Moreover, pro se litigants (or persons who present their own case without a lawyer) are sometimes allowed to appear in court on their own behalf and defend themselves against charges or penalties.
Procedure, or the rules that a court must follow in its trials and appeals, is an essential part of criminal law. This includes the rules governing how witnesses must testify, how evidence must be presented and how the case is heard.