Law is a set of rules and enforceable rights created by a society to govern the behavior of individuals. It is generally considered to be both an art and a science, although the precise definition of both has been debated throughout history. The principal purposes of law are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights. Law may be imposed by either government or by private actors. It can be enforced through the courts, the media or other social institutions, such as religious and cultural groups. It may also be enforced through force or by threat of sanction.
Law covers a wide variety of subjects, from property to murder. It includes both criminal and civil law. It is a vast and complex subject. Some of the important areas are discussed below:
Administrative law – The laws that regulate public agencies, such as airports, railways and highways.
Arbitration – A process whereby a third party is appointed to settle a dispute between two parties, often through mediation or negotiation.
Administrative law also includes the laws that regulate businesses and business transactions, including contracts, taxation, banking and insurance.
Civil law – The legal system that originated in continental Europe and is still prevalent in many of the countries that were once colonized by European nations, as well as in some Pacific islands. Civil law differs from common law in that it puts decisions made by courts on equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process and regulations issued by the executive branch of government. This system also uses the “doctrine of precedent”, or stare decisis, whereby decisions by higher courts bind lower courts and future judges in similar cases.
Evidence – Anything presented at a trial that helps prove the facts in a case, such as eyewitness testimony, documents and other physical objects. Exceptions are hearsay and circumstantial evidence.
In the United States, much of the law is derived from the English common law system that was in place at the time of the American Revolution. However, since then, there have been many innovations in the practice of law, both in the substance and the procedures of the legal system.
Appellate court – A higher level court that is authorized to review the decision of a lower court or tribunal. The appellate court can overturn the earlier decision or affirm it.
Attorney – An individual who practices law, typically representing one of the parties to a lawsuit. The lawyer’s clients are usually referred to as the plaintiff and the defendant. The attorney may be a judge or a member of the bar. The degree of education and training required to become a lawyer varies by state, but in most jurisdictions a person must complete law school to become an attorney.
The legal system is complex and contains many terms that are not commonly used by the general public. In addition, there is a growing body of law that has been created by international organizations.