The Basics of Law


Law is the system of rules and principles created and enforced by a society or a government to regulate behavior and to provide justice. It has been variously described as a science and as an art. A person trained in the law is a lawyer.

Legal systems vary widely. Some are authoritarian and some are democratic. They may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but they can also oppress minorities and stifle social change. In a democracy, laws are generally made by elected officials. They are usually clear and publicized and apply to all equally. They protect human rights, property, and contracts. They ensure equal access to courts and to legal representation.

The origin of law is disputed, but it can be traced back to the time of the early Greek philosophers. Plato and Aristotle were major influencers. The Italian scholars of the Renaissance, the scholars of the Bologna school, also had a significant impact on legal thinking.

There are two types of law: natural law and positive law. Natural law is derived from principles of right reason and views of man’s nature and constitution. Positive law, on the other hand, is derived from God’s revelation and is binding upon all nations.

Some examples of the law include:

arraignment – A court proceeding in which an accused criminal is brought before a judge and told of the charges against him or her and asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

discovery – The lawyers’ examination of facts and documents in possession of the opponents to help prepare for trial.

deposition – An oral testimony given under oath, typically by the defendant in a civil case, or by a witness in a criminal trial.

evidence – Facts or information presented orally during a trial, in a deposition, or in other proceedings such as a hearing or a grand jury investigation.

jury – A group of citizens selected by the courts to hear and decide criminal or civil cases after a formal investigation.

writs – Orders of the courts granting or refusing certain rights or privileges. A person who files a writ is called a plaintiff. A person who opposes a writ filed by the plaintiff is known as a defendant.

precedent – A decision in an earlier case that is similar to a dispute currently before a court; it will ordinarily guide the decision of the current dispute unless the party can show that it was wrongly decided.

appeal – A request to review the judgment of a lower court or tribunal.