The Basics of Law


Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Law may be made either by legislative bodies, resulting in statutes, by executive decrees or regulations, or by judges through case law and precedent (in common law jurisdictions). Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts that are subject to courts. Law encompasses a broad range of subjects, such as property law, tort law, administrative law, criminal law, family law, and civil rights.

In general, there are two types of laws: positive law (that is, legal systems that are based on a written constitution) and natural law (which derives from principles of right reason, views of the nature and constitution of man, and the will of a deity). Both positive and natural laws can be used to guide government and society in a variety of ways.

The fundamental purposes of law include establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. A healthy law system is stable and enduring, publicized, accessible, and applied evenly.

Legal systems vary around the world. Some countries are based entirely on the civil law tradition, with concepts, categories and rules derived from Roman or canon law and supplemented by local custom and culture. In other countries, such as Africa and most of the Pacific islands, civil law coexists with common law or customary law.

In addition to laws created by legislatures and the courts, there are other important areas of law such as statutory law, administrative law, constitutional law, and international law. Statutory law is the law of a state or country created by the action of legislatures and regulating the activities of citizens and businesses. Administrative law covers the rules and procedures of the administration of a state or country, including its courts. Constitutional law, which deals with the basic structure of a government and the rights of its citizens, is an important component of any state or country’s jurisprudence.

An important branch of law is criminal law, which relates to the punishment for crimes such as murder, arson, and burglary. The criminal justice system is based on a process of accusation, conviction, and sentencing. A judge is responsible for deciding whether to convict or acquit a defendant and must follow specific rules of evidence in court. A convicted defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which the defense can challenge the evidence presented by the prosecution. If a jury is convinced that the defendant has committed a crime, the judge will then decide what the appropriate punishment should be. This is determined by a set of guidelines, called the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines. A trial is often conducted by a panel of judges, although the full bench may be involved in cases that are deemed important to the judicial system. This is known as sitting en banc.