The Basics of Law


Law is a system of rules that are enforced by the power of a government, and that regulates human behavior. Laws can be made by either the executive or judicial branch of a country’s government. Laws can be based on the natural world (such as gravity) or created by humans.

The word “law” is most often used in a political context, with the four principal functions of law being to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes, and protect liberties and rights. However, the term can be applied to any set of guidelines or principles that are enforceable by a group of people and can include the moral, religious, or emotional standards instilled by family, school, and religion; the rules and regulations of work, business, and factory life; or the sanctioned criminal and tort laws available to individuals.

Branches of law are as diverse as the functions they perform. For example, contract law defines the responsibilities of parties to contracts and covers everything from buying a bus ticket to trading options on a derivatives market; property law determines people’s rights to their tangible possessions and includes both real estate and personal property (such as cars and bank accounts); and agency law empowers people to appoint agents to act for them or with their consent.

The legal system also includes the institutions that support it, such as judges, prosecutors, and courts. A judge decides lawsuits brought before the court, and prosecutors prosecute crimes on behalf of the government. Public defenders represent defendants who can’t afford attorneys in criminal cases. Probation officers screen applicants for pretrial release and monitor convicted offenders released under supervision.

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