What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of debate. Some people define law as a set of precepts that govern the relationships between individuals, while others see it as an immanent and probabilistic process. Still others consider it a social construct that is based on human judgment and values.

The legal system has evolved in response to changing social circumstances over the centuries. Roman law, for example, was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy and had a detailed system of rules. In medieval times, royal courts developed a system of precedent that became common law. Later, the system was influenced by Islamic law and Jewish law.

In the modern world, the legal system includes a number of disciplines and subfields. These include contract law, tort law, property law, criminal law, evidence law, bankruptcy law, and appellate law. In addition, the system includes procedures for a court to conduct a trial. These include a pretrial services office to screen applicants for pretrial release and a probation department to monitor convicted defendants after they have served their sentences. The system also includes public defenders to represent criminal defendants who cannot afford attorneys.

The legal profession consists of judges, lawyers, and other professionals who work in the field. The practice of law involves advising clients on their rights and obligations and representing them in court. The profession is regulated by the laws of the jurisdiction in which it operates and by ethical codes. In some countries, the practice of law is supervised by a judicial council.

Governments make and enforce laws, but the power to do so varies from nation to nation. Some governments have stable, democratic systems; others have unstable or authoritarian regimes. In the latter cases, the citizens often revolt against the existing political-legal system, calling for greater “rights” for citizens or other changes.

In most nations, the person who makes and enforces the laws is a member of the executive branch of government. The judicial system is usually independent of the executive branch, and its members are called judges. The highest judicial bodies are known as the Supreme Court and the supreme courts of individual states. The judges in these courts are often referred to as justices.

The judiciary also has a record-keeping function, with courts maintaining dockets (logs of brief entries pertaining to a case) and en banc (full bench) sessions. The former describes proceedings that involve all of a court’s judges, while the latter refers to meetings with a full roster of justices rather than the usual quorum of three. These sessions are often used for cases of particular importance or significance. They are often used to decide appeals from a lower court or tribunal. Appeals are requests that the upper court review the decision of a lower-court proceeding. They can be made by either the plaintiff or the defendant. A party may appeal only if it can show that the lower-court judge made a mistake or misinterpreted the law.

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