The Basics of Law


Law is the system of rules that governs human societies and the behavior of individuals within them. It aims to ensure order, protect property, and punish those who break the rules. A legal system also ensures that everyone has equal opportunities in life and that people cannot be arbitrarily deprived of their liberty or property. It is the basis of most government systems. The development of law varies widely across nations. It is primarily a legislative process, but there is room for the judiciary to adjust laws to new situations through interpretation and creative jurisprudence.

A judge is an individual with authority to decide lawsuits brought before him or her. A judge’s assistants and clerks assist him or her in managing the court’s business and maintaining the courts records. Judges’ decisions are binding.

The law is a complex area of study and includes many terms that have specific meanings to the legal system. A lawyer is an individual who practices law, usually in the context of representing a client (plaintiff or defendant) in a civil or criminal case. Lawyers are often referred to as advocates or counsel, and they must be licensed in the jurisdiction where they practice.

jury – A group of citizens selected according to law and sworn to inquire into facts in a case and declare a verdict on matters of fact. The members of the jury for a civil suit may be as few as six, while those for a criminal case must be at least twelve. The judge gives the jury jury instructions, which are explanations of the questions they must answer and the law governing their deliberations. Each party suggests the jury instructions, but the judge chooses the final wording.

settlement – When the parties to a lawsuit resolve their differences without having a trial by paying compensation or agreeing on some other arrangement. A settlement can reduce the amount of money a plaintiff must pay to the defendant, or it could require that the defendant perform some service. A settlement is usually documented in writing.

evidence – Anything presented in a court of law that is used to persuade the fact finder (judge or jury) to side with one or the other in a lawsuit. This can include testimony, documents, and physical objects. Generally, the more convincing the evidence, the more likely it is to change the decision of the fact finder.

inculpatory evidence – Evidence that tends to prove the defendant’s guilt in a criminal case. It is opposed by exculpatory evidence, which tends to show the defendant’s innocence.

statute – A piece of legislation passed by a legislature and approved by the president. Statutes can be federal or state, and they usually include specific wording describing the offense and the penalty for it.

constitutional question – Jurisdiction given to federal courts by the Constitution, acts of Congress, and treaties. Federal courts must hear cases involving these issues.

right – A legally enforceable entitlement, based on the Hohfeldian position that X has a claim-right against Y for some ph if and only if Y has a correlative duty to ph. For example, a citizen has the right to free speech.