Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate human behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of debate, but some important aspects are agreed upon. Laws are generally enforceable by the state, but they may also be enacted by other institutions, such as churches. Laws govern a wide range of activities, including property, contracts, crimes, and human rights. Laws are also a way for society to organize itself and prevent conflict between individuals and groups.
In most nation-states, laws are made by the people or their elected representatives, but the power to make and enforce law is not always distributed equally among citizens. Each year, rebellions and revolutions occur as people seek greater control over the law making and enforcement process.
The purpose of the legal system is to ensure that all people are treated fairly. This includes protecting people against the abuse of power by the government and ensuring that core human and property rights are respected. It also makes sure that people are accountable for their actions and that the government is transparent.
Procedural law focuses on the methods of conducting a trial and is distinct from substantive law, which deals with the rules and rights of everyday conduct. Examples of procedural law include the rules of evidence, bankruptcy, and criminal procedure. Substantive law includes the laws of property, contracts, and torts.
The rule of law refers to the principle that all governments and individuals must be subject to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, and independently adjudicated. It also requires adherence to international human rights standards.
The legal system contains many terms that are unfamiliar to non-lawyers, including arraignment, brief, and docket. Arraignment is the procedure by which an accused person is brought before the court, told of the charges against them, and given the opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty. Brief is a short written document submitted by each lawyer in a case, explaining to the judge why they think their client should win. Docket is the record of all of the proceedings in a lawsuit. Those who have been convicted of a crime are usually placed on probation, where they are monitored by officers who screen applicants and monitor incarcerated defendants. Those who cannot afford attorneys can hire public defenders, who represent them in criminal cases. Appeals are requests to overturn a decision of a lower court or tribunal. They are often decided by a larger group of judges, called the full bench or en banc. In the United States, all federal courts except for the Supreme Court are en banc. In some other countries, courts may be en banc as well.