Law is a set of rules governing human activity and the relations between people. It is the basis of social stability and order, of rights and freedoms, and of economic prosperity. The term law is also used to describe the profession of legal practice and the legal system itself, including courts, judges, and barristers.
Laws are enforceable by the power of a state or nation-state to punish or fine people and companies who break the rules, to protect the interests of citizens, and to ensure that justice is done. A nation’s laws and legal system must be fair, publicly available, and stable in order to maintain its reputation for fairness and integrity.
Legal systems differ in how they create and enforce their laws. Some laws are written in detailed statutes and regulations, while others are judge-made and based on the case history of past cases. The history of the development of law has been shaped by a variety of cultural, social and philosophical factors, most importantly the idea that a state’s legitimacy rests on its ability to promote social justice (equity of opportunity, distribution of goods, privileges, and burdens, etc.).
The primary purpose of a legal system is to protect the public and its members from harm, whether from natural disasters like earthquakes or terrorist attacks, or from other hazards such as unsafe working conditions and financial crises. Other important purposes include establishing standards and maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Some nations and their governments may fail to achieve all of these goals, as illustrated by dictatorships that keep the peace but oppress minorities or promote social injustice.
In “common law” systems, decisions by courts are recognized as law on an equal footing with statutes passed through the legislative process and regulations issued by the executive branch. This is called the doctrine of stare decisis, and it provides a framework for ensuring that similar cases reach similar conclusions. In contrast, in “civil law” systems, judicial decisions are less binding and less structured.
Arraignment – The formal proceeding in which a person accused of a crime is brought before the court, told what they are charged with, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty. In a criminal case, this can be followed by a trial by jury or a bench trial before a judge.
Evidence – Information presented in a court case, such as witnesses, documents, and physical objects. This can help the judge decide which side to favor in a lawsuit. In a civil case, this can be followed by a judgment in which one side receives compensation for their loss. In a criminal case, the decision can be preceded by a grand jury indictment and/or a court hearing to determine probable cause.
Real property law concerns the ownership of land and things attached to it, while personal property law includes movable items such as cars or computers. Regulatory laws may cover mortgages, leases, contracts, and statutory systems of land registration.