Law is a system of rules that sets out how people can live, work and do business with each other. Governments have a legal system to enforce these rules and punish (punish) people who break them. In most countries today, laws are written and voted on by groups of politicians in a legislature, such as parliament or congress, who are elected (chosen) by the governed peoples. There are many different types of laws, but they generally have similar features. These include the following:
Laws are made to help society function, so people can get on with their lives without conflict. If two people fight over property, for example, the law can resolve the dispute and decide who owns what. Laws can also protect the safety of people, their rights and property. For example, if someone steals your belongings, the police can catch them and prosecute them for theft.
Many laws are based on cultural and religious beliefs and books, such as the Jewish Halakha, Islamic Sharia and Christian canon law. These laws can be interpreted and elaborated upon by humans through the processes of interpretation, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy) and Ijma (consensus).
A legal system may also be based on written codes or traditions passed down from one generation to another. It can also be based on the decisions of courts, such as the court of appeals or the Supreme Court. These decisions are known as case law and have the force of precedent.
In some countries, judges are appointed by the governing body rather than elected by the people. These judges are often called magistrates or judges. In the United States, there are twelve regional circuits with a court of appeals and a thirteenth federal court, which hears cases against the government, without geographic limitation. Decisions of a circuit court are binding on district courts within the same jurisdiction and persuasive (but not necessarily binding) on sister circuits.
Laws are a complex and important part of the way that human societies operate. Judges are the individuals who interpret and apply the laws. They are often called ‘the face of justice’ and are highly respected. Laws can be very complicated, however, and there are many debates about them. These debates can range from whether a judge should be allowed to use their own sense of morality in deciding a case to how much the law should interfere with people’s freedom of choice. These debates are often highly emotional.