Law is the system of rules a government creates to govern things like property, crime and social relationships. Laws make sure everyone is treated fairly and can protect people from unjust treatment. They also help to keep the peace and ensure that business can go on as usual. A country with a well-developed legal system is known as having “law and order.”
Laws are enforced by government agencies like police departments and courts. The people who work in the legal system are called lawyers and judges.
A person who obeys the laws of a country is said to have a lawful conscience. People who do not obey the law are considered criminals and may be punished by authorities. In most countries, the punishment for breaking a law can be a fine, community service, or even jail time. The most serious crimes are often punishable by death.
People sometimes disagree about what the law should be. Some disagreements lead to violence, while others are settled peacefully by the courts. When two people claim ownership of the same piece of property, for example, the court can decide who owns it. The legal system is also used to settle disputes between businesses, governments and individuals.
Some laws are passed by the legislature, while others are enacted by the executive branch or created by a judge. The laws that are enacted by the legislature are called statutes, while those made by a judge are known as common law or case law. Both kinds of laws are used in the United States.
The goal of law is to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, and promote social change in an orderly way. Some nations have more streamlined legal systems than others. A nation ruled by an authoritarian dictatorship, for example, may keep the peace but oppress minorities and political opponents.
Lawyers are trained to help people understand the law and protect their rights. Lawyers can be hired to do a variety of things, including representing clients in a lawsuit, advising clients on legal issues, or helping them prepare for a trial. Lawyers can be found in private practice, with a firm or corporation, and in the military, where they are called officers of the law.
Other legal terms include binding precedent – a prior decision by a court that must be followed without a compelling reason or significantly different facts or issues. The decisions of higher-level courts are usually binding on lower-level courts unless they are overturned by an appellate court with authority to review their cases. An arraignment is the first step in a trial, when a defendant is brought into court and told about the charges against him or her. A brief is a written statement submitted by the lawyer for each side in a case to explain to the judge(s) why they think the case should be decided one way or another. A judge may also grant a continuance, which is a decision to postpone the trial.