Law is the system of rules that a society or government creates to deal with things like crime, business agreements, and social relationships. It also refers to the body of legal knowledge describing how that system works and the people who work within it.
The precise nature of laws is a subject of long-running debate. Some believe that laws are simply a set of precepts that represent societal values. Others see laws as a tool for regulating behavior and promoting order, and still others view them as an attempt to achieve some sort of justice or fairness.
A legal system can be created in many ways, including through a written constitution, a code of ethics, and a set of judicial precedents. A nation’s laws can be enforced by a central government, through regional or local governments, or by private individuals with legally binding contracts.
There are four principal purposes for which a system of law may be created: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. A well-functioning system of law accomplishes all of these by balancing the interests and needs of different groups in society.
Judges – The judges in our courts are responsible for interpreting and applying the law to specific cases. They also oversee the administration of the court system. A judge’s most important responsibility is to ensure that all parties are treated fairly. They do this by listening to both sides of a case and making a decision after considering all of the evidence.
Jurisdiction – The geographic area over which a court has legal authority to decide a case. A federal court can usually only decide a case that arose from actions in that jurisdiction, while a state court generally can only decide cases that happened in its own territory. The plaintiff in a lawsuit generally decides which jurisdiction to choose, but the defendant can sometimes seek to change that decision.
Appeals – The process by which the losing party in a lawsuit asks another court to review the outcome of the case. A court of appeals will often overturn the original ruling if it finds that the trial was improperly conducted or that the trial court misinterpreted the law.
Witness – A person who is called to testify in a case. Witnesses are often questioned by attorneys for both the plaintiff and the defendant, and they can be a source of valuable information in a case.
Attorney – A person who practices law, typically in the fields of criminal or civil litigation. An attorney can be either a prosecutor or a defense attorney, depending on the nature of the case.
Jury – A group of citizens who are selected from a pool of potential jurors to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty of a crime. The lawyers for each side select the actual members of the jury through a process called voir dire. Felony – A serious crime such as murder, burglary, or robbery that has a punishment of more than a year in prison.