What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules governing people and the relationships between them. It aims to regulate activities and provide justice, and is enforced through penalties (like fines). Law also shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways.

A legal system typically consists of laws and procedures that are enacted by a legislative authority, or made by judges in a court of law. Some systems, such as the United States’, have a system of common law, while others use civil law, where laws are codified and laws are derived from case law. A country’s constitution may define its system of law.

In addition, there are specific terms used in law:

article – A section of a law that regulates particular matters; for example, contracts, taxes and property rights. Articles can be found in both civil and criminal law.

arraignment – A court hearing at which the defendant is told of the charges against them and asked to plead guilty or not guilty. Often the jury is chosen from the jury pool during this process.

capital offense – A crime punishable by death in the United States; includes murder, rape, and other serious crimes.

constitution – A written document that defines a country’s government structure, including its political and judicial branches. It may also include provisions on the separation of powers, which ensures that no one branch of the government has too much power over any other.

court of appeals – A higher court that reviews the decision of a lower court or tribunal, such as a trial. A court of appeals may have the power to overturn the original judgment or decide a new issue not covered by the earlier ruling.

evidence – Information presented during a trial that supports or undermines a party’s claim to a legal right or defence. For example, evidence can include witness testimony, expert witness reports, documents and other physical objects.

legal aid – A service that provides lawyers for poor or otherwise unable-to-afford clients in criminal and civil cases. Legal aid organizations are generally non-profit and funded through public grants and private donations.

pro se – Latin for “on one’s own behalf”; used to refer to a person who presents their case in court without a lawyer.

rule of law – A principle that guarantees citizens’ rights to equal treatment by the law and to freedom from oppressive government action. The principle requires that all citizens, institutions and agencies are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, fairly adjudicated and consistent with international human rights standards.

Although some have argued that law is inherently flawed, there are many practical benefits of the legal system. For example, it ensures that people are held accountable for their actions and can be trusted not to abuse their power or wealth. It can also prevent conflicts over property and other resources and help protect vulnerable groups. However, some people argue that the law should not try to cover everything or force individuals to behave in ways that are impractical or unethical.