The Basics of Law
Law is the set of rules a society imposes on its members to enforce justice and social order. It governs the conduct of individuals and organizations in disputes over property, contracts, rights, privileges, immunities, and other issues. It is generally enforceable by a court of law, which consists of judges, lawyers, and other personnel. Law is a complex subject, and there are many areas of specialty. For example, torts cover injuries to people and their property, such as in automobile accidents or defamation of character. Criminal laws deal with offenses against the state or its citizens. There are also areas of law dealing with international relations, constitutional law, and legal education.
The law reflects and promotes certain values, such as freedom, equality, justice, and the protection of human rights. It is important that it be clear, publicized, stable, and applied evenly. It is also important that those who create and administer the law be accessible, competent, ethical, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.
There are several legal systems in the world, and they often differ from one another. However, they do tend to fall into groups or patterns with some similarities based on historically accepted justice ideals. Common law, civil law, and religious or customary law are some examples of these major types of legal systems. Many countries use a combination of these different types of law.
The basic concept of law is that there are four kinds of “rights”: claims, privileges, powers, and immunities. These are first-order norms that determine what parties ought to do (claim-rights), may do (privilege-rights), must do (power-rights), and cannot do (immunity-rights) (Lyons 1970; Sumner 1987).
The study of law is called jurisprudence, which includes the history of the development of legal principles and practices as well as an examination of their application in particular cases. The process of deciding legal disputes is known as litigation or a lawsuit. Those who participate in lawsuits are known as litigants. The judge in a lawsuit is known as a presiding officer, and the attorneys representing either party are called litigants as well. The jury in a trial is chosen from a group of potential jurors called a jury pool. The actual jurors are selected through a process called voir dire. Evidence in a case is presented by witnesses and through documents or other objects, which are known as exhibits. The evidence is analyzed and interpreted by the judge or jury, who then decides the case. The judge’s decision is known as a judgment. A judge’s ruling can be contested or appealed. If the judge’s decision is contested, it can be overturned by a higher court. A similar appeals process is available in the event of a conviction in a criminal case. The convicted person is then placed on probation or released under supervision. The supervision is monitored by probation officers or pretrial services officers. Probation is usually accompanied by regular meetings with the prosecutor.