Law is a set of rules that govern human behavior. It is used by governments to protect people from harm and to regulate economic, social and cultural activities.
Various definitions of law are in common use, but all describe a principle that is imposed by a sovereign authority and is accepted by all subject to that authority. It may be prescribed by a statute or regulation; a precept; or a statement of morals communicated through teaching.
Criminal laws define what constitutes a crime and punish individuals for committing an offense. The elements of a crime include the act or conduct (actus reus), the mental state at the time of the act (mens rea), and the effect of the act on other people, such as damage to property or injuries to their reputation.
Legal systems vary from country to country, and can be influenced by political and religious institutions. The rule of law is a set of universal principles that ensures the right of individuals to be free from abuse and to have justice administered efficiently and fairly.
Judicial systems have a broader emphasis on objectiveness than legislative or executive branches. Decisions of courts bind lower courts and future courts to the same reasoning, known as stare decisis or “to stand by.”
The science of law is the study of how laws operate in practice. It also focuses on the rules that are in place to guide the practice of law and to enforce them.
A lawyer is a person who specializes in the practice of law, such as a judge, barrister or solicitor. They are required to follow certain professional standards, such as being admitted to a particular bar and earning a specific qualification such as a law degree or a postgraduate professional training course.
Lawyers are regulated by either a government or an independent regulating body such as a bar association, bar council or law society. Modern lawyers are privileged to receive a special designation (a professional identity), namely a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Civil Law, or a Juris Doctor degree.
Criminal law – A field of law that deals with crimes and violations of public policy against the community itself, such as homicide or assault. Its basic principles are that a person must be guilty of an offence before being punished for it, and that the punishment must be severe enough to deter others from committing similar offenses.
Courts can decide a wide range of cases, from simple civil claims to complex criminal matters. They can hear cases from a single party, known as a plaintiff, or from multiple parties, such as the defendant and the complainant.
Appeals – A request made to another court to review the judgment of the trial court or tribunal in a case. An appeal is often made to change a ruling by the lower court, and can be brought on a variety of grounds.
Jury – A group of people that are selected to decide a case in court, often in a fair and impartial manner. The jury is usually chosen by a court, but sometimes the jury is appointed by the parties in a lawsuit.