Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. The precise definition of law is a matter of longstanding debate, but it has been generally defined as a set of principles that ensure that people adhere to societal mores and respect the rights and privileges of others. Law can be imposed by governments through collective legislative action, resulting in statutes, or by individual legislators in the form of decrees and regulations. It can be established by judges through case law, and it may also be influenced by a constitution or other written or unwritten charter of rights encoded within a community.
In addition to establishing standards, law serves several other purposes: to maintain order, to resolve disputes and protect liberties and property. It is a source of much scholarly inquiry, including legal history, philosophy, sociology and economic analysis. It is also an important topic of public policy, as it determines the extent to which individuals are held accountable for their actions and to whom they have duties and obligations.
A large and diverse collection of laws governs many aspects of modern life, ranging from contracts to taxation and bankruptcy. Traditionally, a society’s law was derived from local custom and tradition, but the rise of nationalism in the 19th century led to the development of civil codes, which brought order and consistency to the law by standardizing a common set of rules across a country or region.
Lawyers and lawyers’ organizations are an important part of the legal process, helping clients understand their rights and responsibilities, and assisting with the preparation of cases for trial. The law also provides the foundation for a wide range of other professions and careers, including medicine, journalism, engineering, finance and agriculture.
case law – A court’s use of decisions made in previous cases with similar facts and issues to determine how it will decide a current dispute. Some case law is binding, meaning it must be followed by other courts unless there are compelling reasons or significant differences in the facts or issues involved.
court of appeals – A higher level of court that hears and decides appeals from lower court decisions. Courts of appeals often consist of panels of three judges, but they can expand to a full bench when they believe a case is particularly important and needs the full expertise of the entire court.
to take the law into one’s own hands – To act without recourse to established mores or legal processes, especially to enforce personal justice or impose one’s will: The townspeople took the law into their own hands when they saw a crime being committed.
restraining order – A court’s temporary order to prevent an individual from taking an action that is likely to cause irreparable harm. A restraining order is similar to an injunction, but it can last only until a hearing can be scheduled.
A court transcript is a word-for-word record of what was said in a judicial proceeding such as a trial or a conversation.