The Basics of Law

Law consists of the body of rules imposed by an authority upon those under its jurisdiction commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong. It is permanent as to time and universal in application. It has a rational basis in the nature and will of the Creator, is revealed by His word in Scripture and Nature, and is an objective order of natural justice that exists everywhere and does not depend on the particular place where it is enacted or enforced. This is essentially the view expressed by Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Law of England (1723-1780) and by Thomas Aquinas in his On Law (1525-1574).

The principles of law and justice impose duties on governments and individuals to respect fundamental human rights. These rights include freedom and equality, the preservation of property, contract, and personal autonomy, and the due process of law. The principal functions of the law are to keep the peace, maintain social stability, preserve the status quo, protect minorities against majorities, and provide for orderly social change.

The law has many different aspects, including civil law, criminal law, evidence law, bankruptcy law, and appellate procedure. A legal term used frequently is a precedent, which refers to a court decision in an earlier case that has facts and laws similar to the dispute in a current case. Courts are generally bound to follow a precedential decision unless it is clearly erroneous or significantly different.

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