What Is Law?

What Is Law?


Law is the body of rules a society has made to keep order and protect people from harm. These are mainly written by governments and are enforced by the police, courts and prison systems.

Laws are also based on other sources such as moral philosophy, religion, and individual conscience. The word law is often used in a broad sense and refers to all laws in a particular country, which may be hundreds of thousands of pages long.

There are two major categories of legal systems: civil law and common law. The former are found throughout the world and are primarily based on Roman law with some influence from canon law. The latter are more localised and usually rely on custom or local tradition.

Some of the major areas of law include: legislation (laws that govern government); criminal law; administrative law; intellectual property; commercial law; private and public contract law; and property law. Some countries also have a system of administrative codes that regulate business and other activity.

Appeals and jurisdiction

Appellate court: a court of higher authority that can review the decision of lower courts or tribunals. Appeals can be made for a variety of reasons, including improper procedure and requests to change the interpretation of law.

Jurisdiction: the legal authority of a court to hear and decide cases; in some situations a case can be heard in both state and federal courts. The plaintiff initially decides where the case will be heard, but in some instances the defendant can change the jurisdiction by changing the court.

Precedent: a previous court decision with facts and law similar to the present dispute. Some precedents are binding, while others need not be followed but can be considered influential.

Judges: the judges in a court who rule on cases, primarily criminal or civil disputes; they are normally selected by parliament and may be appointed or elected to a fixed term of office.

Jury: a group of people who are chosen by the plaintiff or defendant in a lawsuit and whose verdicts are decided by the court. Typically, a jury is comprised of twelve members.

Discovery: examination, before trial, of facts and documents in possession of the opponents to help the lawyers prepare for trial.

Docket: a log of brief entries in court proceedings.

en banc: a session of a court in which all the judges are in attendance, rather than just the usual quorum. In the United States, the courts of appeals may be held en banc.

Many theories on the meaning of law have been developed. Some, like the positivist, are based on the assumption that only legal rules have been expressly enacted by governmental entities or courts. Others, such as naturalists, claim that religion, moral philosophy, human reason and individual conscience integrate parts of the law into a complete system.