Law is an important part of every society and plays a critical role in the development of our democracy. A good legal system promotes order and respects people of all backgrounds, social class, and economic status by applying the same laws to everyone equally. In addition, it ensures that everyone is accountable for their actions and provides mechanisms to prevent abuse of power by those in government and private industry. The most basic definition of law is a set of rules created and enforced by the state that form a framework for a peaceful society. However, the study of law is much more than that. Different authors have written books with a wide range of ideas and definitions about the nature and importance of law.
Law covers many different areas, including civil rights, criminal justice, bankruptcy, and family law. Some of these areas are more closely related to one another than others, but all have a common theme: the use of authority to govern and control human behavior. The governing principle is the rule of law, which is based on principles such as due process, liberty, and property rights. In some societies, laws are formulated by elected officials and in others they are developed and enforced by the courts.
Despite the complexities and layers of law, most experts agree that there are four primary functions of the law: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Some societies are more successful in meeting these goals than others. For example, an autocratic government may maintain peace and the status quo, but it is more likely to oppress minorities and limit social change than a democratic government.
A key feature of the law is that it is a set of standards that can be tested in court, rather than an ad hoc system that differs from case to case. The development of a comprehensive code called civil law was designed to reduce bias and provide consistency in the interpretation and application of the law.
While many people agree on the basics of the law, there are still debates about the finer points of the legal system. For instance, there is debate about how the judiciary should be appointed and whether judges should be allowed to express their political views in deciding cases.
Other legal terms to know include:
arraignment – The first step in the trial of a defendant. The judge tells the defendant the charges against them and they enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. acquittal – When a jury decides that the defendant is not guilty of the crime charged against them.