Law is the set of rules that a society creates and enforces to regulate behavior. Law has many purposes, but four principal ones are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Some legal systems are better at serving these functions than others. For examples, an authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it may oppress minorities and restrict political opponents.
Laws are created and enforced by a nation’s government. The legal landscape is vastly different from one nation to the next, but most countries have some form of legal system. In most cases, knowing who has the power to make and enforce laws is essential for understanding a nation’s law.
A legal system can include a written constitution, statutes, and case law. Statutes are laws passed by a legislature, while constitutions establish the basic principles of a country’s government. Case law is a body of court decisions that determines how other laws, such as statutes, should be applied in given situations.
a civil lawsuit – An action between individuals or entities that seeks to recover damages or a specific item or piece of property. A civil lawsuit differs from a criminal suit, which involves allegations of an intentional act or crime.
b jury – A group of people who are selected and sworn in to examine the evidence presented in a trial and decide on a verdict for the case. The size of a jury varies from six for some civil suits to twelve for criminal cases. Juries are often sequestered from spectators and other influences during deliberations.
evidence – The information that a witness provides during a trial. Evidence can include testimony, documents, physical objects, and other things. The type and amount of evidence that a witness provides is dictated by the laws of a particular jurisdiction.
court – A building in which the judge and other members of a judicial system gather to hear a case or decide a dispute. A court may also be called a tribunal, tribunale, or arbiter.
chief judge – The highest ranking judge in a court system who oversees the court’s administration. A chief judge’s job is to ensure that all cases are handled efficiently and in accordance with the law.
clerk of court – An officer who assists judges by managing the flow of cases through the courts and keeping court records. The clerk of court also prepares legal documents and may be the person who distributes writs or summonses to the parties in a case.
jury instructions – A judge’s explanation to a jury before it begins deliberations about the case’s facts, the law that applies to those facts, and the questions that the jury must answer. Each party to a case suggests jury instructions, but the judge chooses the final wording.
law school – An institution of higher learning where students study the law and learn to become lawyers. Some schools of law offer graduate programs in addition to undergraduate degrees.