Law is a system of rules that governs the conduct of individuals, governments and organizations. It provides equality and accountability for people, and protects the rights of all.
In a nation, law can serve several functions: it can keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice, and provide for orderly social change. Some legal systems do these tasks better than others.
Propertylaw – A legal system that defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible property (real estate) and their possessions (personal property). Intangible property includes things that can’t be seen or touched, such as bank accounts, shares of stock, and intellectual properties.
Civil law – A legal system that originated in Europe and has survived in many parts of the world, especially in America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. It coexists with other legal traditions, such as common law, customary law, and Islamic law.
Common law – A system that is largely based on written statutes, enacted by government representatives. In these systems, judges and lawyers interpret these laws and write decisions.
Court decision – A ruling by a judge or a barrister that is acknowledged as “law” on equal footing with legislative statutes and executive regulations, and must be followed by lower courts to assure that similar cases reach similar results.
Judicial decisions also set out reasoning that will be used by future courts, and this process is known as precedent. Precedent can bind lower courts, but not all precedents are binding; some need to be challenged.
Evidence – A collection of facts and information that is presented in a trial or other court proceeding to persuade a fact finder (judge or jury) to come to a conclusion for one side or the other. It may include testimony and exhibits, such as contracts, weapons, or photographs.
Tort – A wrong or breach of a duty to another person as outlined by law, such as the negligence of an automobile driver that causes damage to someone’s property.
Public defenders – Prosecute defendants who can’t afford private attorneys.
Law clerk – Assists the judge with research and drafting opinions.
Librarian – Meets the informational needs of the judges and lawyers.
Litigation – A lawsuit or other legal action that involves a dispute between two parties (plaintiffs and defendants). Lawyers represent plaintiffs, and they represent their clients by arguing the case to a judge or jury.
In a society, law is often inextricably intertwined with everyday life. Its impact can be felt in a variety of ways, including contract law, criminal law, property law, family law and employment law.
Religion is an important factor in most legal systems; it can influence how law is formulated, what legal concepts are considered legitimate or unlawful, and how courts must apply the law. Some religious traditions have their own specific laws, called canon law.
Other legal systems incorporate principles from religion, such as the rule of law or the principle of fairness. These can be influenced by the religious tradition in question, such as the Jewish Halakha and the Muslim Sharia, which have a strong presence in both Jewish and Islamic communities.