Law is the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members. Its precise definition is a matter of ongoing debate and can include both legal regulations and social norms.
Law can be made by a group legislature or by one legislator, resulting in statutes; through decrees and regulations issued by the executive branch; or through precedent established by judges. These laws are typically enforceable by the state through judicial processes, although some private individuals may make legally binding contracts that provide for alternative ways to resolve disputes.
The study of law is a broad discipline that examines the relationships between various branches of government, as well as between law and other social sciences. This includes political structures, constitutions, and social issues such as human rights and land reform.
Articles devoted to the study of law include constitutional law; public policy; legal education; and legal ethics. Topics include civil law, criminal law, and international law.
In some jurisdictions, laws are written down in books or codified into a national law book; others are based on custom and tradition. Some countries have preserved a traditional legal tradition, such as the Roman-Dutch law of South Africa or the Civil Code of Egypt.
Common law systems are primarily found in western Europe and North America, and are largely derived from the concepts and categories derived from the Roman law. They are tolerant of individual freedom and promote cooperation between human beings.
The “doctrine of stare decisis” (Latin for “to stand by decisions”) binds lower courts to abide by court decisions that have been upheld by higher courts. Often, this means that the lower court will not make a decision on the same issue again, so long as there is no reason to believe that the previous decision was wrong.
Appeals are requests that other courts review a trial, either for improper procedure or because the court’s interpretation of the law is in error. Appeals are usually brought by the plaintiff, who wants a better result than the one reached by the trial court, or by the defendant, who wants a different result than the court has decided.
In some cases, the case is heard in a single session, called a consolidated hearing; in other cases, it is heard in several sessions over a longer period of time. Appellate courts in the United States are generally composed of three judges, but sometimes they expand to a larger number of judges when they have a case that is important enough to be decided en banc.
Preparation for a Trial
The trial process begins with arraignment, which is a court proceeding in which the defendant learns of his charges and is asked to plead guilty or not guilty. There is also a preliminary hearing, during which the judge decides whether there is enough evidence to require a trial. Then, a pretrial conference is held between the judge and lawyers, to discuss which matters should be presented to the jury, and to set a timetable for the trial.