The Basics of Law
Law is a system of rules that regulates human activity in a society. It establishes standards, enforces order, settles disputes, and protects people’s liberties and rights. It can be imposed by the state, and it may also be established and enforced through private organizations or social institutions. It can be either secular or religious. Laws can be made by legislative action, resulting in statutes, decrees, or regulations, or they can be created through judicial decisions, resulting in case law and precedent.
Legal systems can be divided into two broad categories: civil and criminal. Civil laws address matters between individuals and include fields like contract, tort, and family law. Criminal laws, on the other hand, cover offenses against a person or property and generally punish those who commit crimes. Whether laws are imposed by the government or by private entities, they have to follow certain guidelines called the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law is a set of principles that require laws to be publicly promulgated, equally enforced, and independently adjudicated and that are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.
A common misconception is that the Rule of Law only applies to countries that are democratic, but the concept is actually much broader. The Rule of Law is an ideal that should be embraced by all countries, regardless of their political system or level of democracy. It is important for nations to strive towards the Rule of Law because it ensures a higher level of justice, stability and security.
Some legal topics are extremely complex. For example, tort law covers cases where a person or their possessions are harmed by another person, such as automobile accidents or defamation. Contract law defines the terms of agreements between individuals, such as buying a bus ticket or trading options on a derivatives market. Family law includes marriage, divorce, and custody proceedings. Property law explains people’s rights to tangible and intangible property, including real property (land or buildings) and personal property (movable things, such as cars or computers).
Other legal fields involve the administration of justice, including court procedures, criminal prosecutions, and legal records. Judges are judicial officers whose responsibility is to hear and decide lawsuits, while prosecutors are state agents who investigate cases for potential crime commission. Public defenders are attorneys for indigent defendants who cannot afford their own legal representation. Probation officers screen applicants for pretrial release and monitor convicted offenders released under supervision. Evidence is presented to judges by lawyers for both sides in a trial through written briefs, and the judge’s decision is formally recorded as a judgment. Judges are bound by the decisions of appellate courts with jurisdiction to review their rulings. The House of Representatives can impeach (accuse) high-level government officials for wrongdoing, and in some instances, the judge may issue a ruling “in forma pauperis,” which permits an individual to sue without paying court fees on the grounds of poverty.