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Law, body of official rules and regulations, generally found in constitutions, legislation, judicial opinions, and the like, that is used to govern a society and to control the behaviour of its members. In the most general sense, there are two kinds of law: natural law and positive law. Natural law has been recognized since the ancient world to be a general body of rules of right conduct and justice common to all mankind. This concept grew from the observation of the operation of the laws of nature and their uniformity. t7p16pr
Positive law, on the other hand, consists of regulations formulated by the heads of a country or society. In many cases, natural laws have been written into positive laws by governments. The prohibition against killing, for example, is common to virtually all of mankind, and most nations have enacted laws against it.
The nature and functions of law have varied throughout history. In modern societies, some authorized body such as a legislature or a court makes the law. It is backed by the coercive power of the state, which enforces the law by means of appropriate penalties or remedies.
Law serves a variety of functions. Laws against crimes, for example, help to maintain a peaceful, orderly, relatively stable society. Courts contribute to social stability by resolving disputes in a civilized fashion. Property and contract laws facilitate business activities and private planning. Laws limiting the powers of government help to provide some degree of freedom that would not otherwise be possible. Law has also been used as a mechanism for social change; for instance, at various times laws have been passed to inhibit social discrimination and to improve the quality of individual life in matters of health, education, and welfare.

Natural Law
Law is not completely a matter of human enactment; it also includes natural law. The best-known version of this view, that God's law is supreme, has had considerable influence in many Western societies. The civil rights movement, for example, was at least partially inspired by the belief in natural law. Such a belief seems implicit in the view that law should serve to promote human dignity, as for instance by the enforcement of equal rights for all.
Natural Law, in ethical philosophy, theology, law, and social theory, a set of principles, based on what are assumed to be the permanent characteristics of human nature, that can serve as a standard for evaluating conduct and civil laws. Natural law is considered fundamentally unchanging and universally applicable. Thus, natural law may be considered an ideal to which humanity aspires or a general fact, the way human beings usually act. Natural law is contrasted with positive law, the enactments of civil society.
Probably the most famous of the ancient God-giving code, however, is that found in the first five books of the Bible, the laws of Moses. The heart of this code is the Ten Commandments presented by Moses to the people of Israel. These commandments are the basic summary of all moral law designed to regulate the behavior of individuals with regard to each other.

The Ten Commandments

The ancient Greek philosophers were the first to elaborate a doctrine of natural law. In the 6th century BC, Heraclitus spoke of a common wisdom that pervades the whole universe, “for all human laws are nourished by one, the divine”. Aristotle distinguished between two kinds of justice: “A rule of justice is natural that has the same validity everywhere, and does not depend on our accepting it or not; a rule is legal aconventionali that in the first instance may be settled in one way or the other indifferently.” The Stoics, especially the philosopher Chrysippus of Soli, constructed a systematic natural law theory. According to Stoicism, the whole cosmos is rationally ordered by an active principle, the Logos, variously named God, mind, or fate. Every individual nature is part of the cosmos. To live virtuously means to live in accord with one's nature, to live according to reason. Because passion and emotion are considered irrational movements of the soul, the wise individual seeks to eradicate the passions and consciously embrace the rational life. This doctrine was popularized among the Romans by the 1st-century BC orator Cicero, who gave a famous definition of natural law in his De Republica: “True law is right reason in agreement with Nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions. . . There will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and for all times.” In the Corpus Juris Civilis a compilation and codification of Roman legal material prepared in 534 under Emperor Justinian I, a jus naturale is acknowledged.
Christian Conceptions
Christians found the natural law doctrine of the Stoics quite compatible with their beliefs. St Paul spoke of Gentiles who do not have the Mosaic law doing “by nature what the law requires” (Romans 2:14).
The teaching of St Thomas Aquinas on the natural law is the most widely known. In his Summa Theologiae (Summary Treatise of Theology, 1265-1273) Aquinas called the rational guidance of creation by God the “Eternal Law”. The Eternal Law gives all beings the inclination to those actions and aims that are proper to them. Thus, according to Aquinas, it is possible to distinguish good from evil by the natural light of reason.
Modern Theories
The Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius is considered the founder of the modern theory of natural law. The German jurist Samuel von Pufendorf, the first to hold a chair of natural law in a German university, more fully developed the concept of a law of nature. The 17th-century English philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke proposed an original state of nature from which a social contract arose and combined this theory with that of natural law. Locke's doctrine that nature had endowed human beings with certain inalienable rights that could not be violated by any governing authority was incorporated in the American Declaration of Independence.
In the 19th century a critical spirit dominated discussions of natural law. The existence of a natural law was generally regarded as unprovable, and it was largely replaced in legal theory by utilitarianism, formulated by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham as “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”, and by legal positivism, according to which law is based simply on “the command of the ruler”, in the phrase of the English jurist John Austin.
The atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during World War II revived interest in a higher standard than positive law. The United Nations (UN) Charter declared the “faith” of that organization in human rights, and on December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, however, is more a moral pronouncement than a legally enforceable treaty.

Development of Law

Code (law), in jurisprudence, a systematic compilation of law in written form, issued by rulers in former times, and promulgated by legislative authority after the rise of representative governments. Early legal codes were little more than statements of the bodies of customs that had obtained the force of law in civilized communities.

Ancient Codes

Some historians include among early codes the Book of the Covenant and the Book of the Law of the Old Testament.
The heart of this code is the Ten Commandments presented by Moses to the people of Israel. These commandments are the basic summary of all moral law designed to regulate the behavior of individuals with regard to each other.

The Ten Commandments

legal code known in its entirety is the Babylonian cuneiform Code of Hammurabi of the 18th century BC, discovered in 1901. Four fragments of an earlier Babylonian cuneiform code, known as the Code of Lipit-Ishtar, were discovered in about 1900 and deciphered in 1948.
One of the best known of the early codes, or collections of written laws, is that of the Babylonian cuneiform Code of Hammurabi, king of Babylon, who lived about 1800 BC.
Four fragments of an earlier Babylonian cuneiform code, known as the Code of Lipit-Ishtar, were discovered in about 1900 and deciphered in 1948.
The Code of Hammurabi is the most complete remnant of Babylonian law. The background to the code is the body of Sumerian law under which city-states had lived for centuries. The code itself was advanced far beyond ancient tribal customs. The stela on which the code is inscribed originally stood in Babylon's temple of Marduk, the national god. It was discovered at the site of ancient Susa in 1901 by the French archaeologist Jean-Vincent Scheil. He presented it to the Louvre.
The code consists of 282 case laws, or judicial decisions, collected toward the end of Hammurabi's reign. The decisions deal with such matters as family, marriage, and divorce; tariffs; trade and commerce; prices; and criminal and civil law.
In criminal law the ruling principle for punishment was the ancient lex talionis, or law of retaliation. Penalties were calculated according to the nature of the offense. Capital punishment was common, and the various means of execution were prescribed, depending on the nature of the crime. Neither imprisonment nor forced labor is mentioned in the code. Unintended manslaughter was punished by a fine. Willful murder was not mentioned. Carelessness and neglect in the performance of work was severely punished. In general, the penalties prescribed were an improvement over the brutality of previous Assyrian law.

The ancient Greek city-states began codifying laws in the 7th century BC. The Laws of Gortyn, named after the ancient town of Gortyna, Crete, are regarded as the closest to a systematic statement of ancient Hellenic law.
The Twelve Tables of ancient Roman law are often cited as a classic example of an early code.
Law of the Twelve Tables, earliest code of Roman law. It was formalized in 451-450 BC from existing oral law by ten magistrates, called decemvirs, and inscribed on tablets of bronze or wood, which were posted in the principal Roman Forum. According to tradition, the code was drawn up to appease the plebs, who maintained that their liberties were not adequately protected by the unwritten law as interpreted by patrician judges. Originally, ten tablets of laws were inscribed; two more were added the following year. The tablets were destroyed in the sack of Rome by the Gauls in 390 BC, but a number of the laws are known through references in later Latin literature. The Twelve Tables covered all categories of the law and also included specific penalties for various infractions. . They were largely a declaration of existing customs concerning such matters as property, payment of debts, and appropriate compensation or other remedies for damage to people. The code underwent frequent changes but remained in effect for nearly a thousand years.
The Twelve Tables serve as a historical basis for the widespread modern belief that fairness in law demands that it be in written form. These tables and their Roman successors, including the Justinian Code, led to civil law codes that provide the main source of law in much of modern Europe, South America, and elsewhere.

Other compilations of law include the Hindu Code of Manu, believed to date from about AD 400, and the code of the Chinese Tang dynasty, issued in AD 630.
All other societies in the ancient world devised sets of laws. In the 7th century BC, a lawgiver named Draco drew up a very harsh code that punished offenses, no matter how trivial, with death. Not many years later, another Greek lawgiver, Solon, repealed all but the laws dealing with murder. In the Greek city-state of Sparta, there was a legendary lawgiver named Lycurgus who, after giving the Spartans a code of law, left the city with the instruction that the laws were not to be changed until he returned. He never did return.

Roman Law
The most complete and complex system of laws in the ancient world was developed by the Romans. It was the product of many centuries of civilization, from the early years of the Republic until the end of the Empire. In the 6th century AD, the emperor Justinian collected and organized the laws for use as the Roman Civil Law. Roman law has strongly influenced the general character of the laws in every nation of Western Europe except England.
Roman Law, in general usage, legal system developed by the Romans from the time of their first codification of law, known as the Law of the Twelve Tables, in 450 BC, to the death of Justinian I, ruler of the Byzantine Empire, in AD 565. Specifically, the term designates the codification of law known as the Corpus Juris Civilis, also called the Justinian Code, made under the auspices of Justinian, that forms the basis of the civil law of many continental European countries.

Of all the codes of antiquity, that of the Roman emperor Justinian I, entitled the Corpus Juris Civilis (Body of Civil Law) and known as the Codex Justinianus, Justinian Code, or simply The Code, most closely resembles the codes of later times. It was in part a compilation and consolidation of statute law, but it lacked the systematic arrangement and the concentration on a single branch of the law, such as criminal law or civil law, that are essential features of later codes.

Prior to the Twelve Tables, the law of Rome was religious in character, and its interpretation rested with priests, who were members of the patrician class. Complaints and agitation by the plebs, the common people, led to the writing of the existing legal customs and the addition of new principles unknown in the customary law. The Law of the Twelve Tables thus drafted was submitted to and accepted by the popular assembly. This code set forth simple rules suitable for an agricultural community; it established equal law for patricians and plebs and was prized by the Romans as the source of all public and private law. The legal system established under this code, and the body of rules that developed around it, applied exclusively to Roman citizens and was known as the jus civile.
In the 11th century, however, the law books of Justinian were studied and used in Lombardy, in southern France, and in Barcelona, Spain. In Italy, the laws of Justinian were taught in a law school at Pavia. Early in the 12th century a more thorough study of these texts was inaugurated at Bologna. The systematic study of Roman law spread from Italy throughout Europe from the 12th century onwards. With the revival of European commerce and the inadequacy of medieval law to meet the requirements of the changing economic and social conditions, Roman law became incorporated in the legal systems of many continental European countries.

Development of Law II

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, AD 476, the Christian church, as the strongest institution in society, became a major lawmaking and law enforcement body. Called canon law (canons are regulations), a body of rules formulated by the church was designed to regulate human behavior, with respect to religious matters primarily. But it eventually came to apply to the actions of people on social, economic, and political levels as well.
In England, each locality had its own laws based on custom and tradition. After the Norman Conquest, 1066, judges appointed by the king moved from one place to another to administer these local laws. As time passed, local laws gave way to judges' interpretations of a broader system of laws accepted in more than one area. Eventually the decisions of the judges, constantly modified by later decisions, were accepted as the body of English common law.

In France, under the guidance of Napoleon, a civil code was enacted in 1804. With revisions, it still remains in force and has been a major influence in the legal systems of most European countries and in Latin America. The Code Napoleon was made necessary by the diversity and confusion of laws that had developed in France and other parts of Europe during the Middle Ages and early modern period. The premise for the code was the idea that, for the first time in history, a law based purely on common sense should be created, free of all past prejudices and inequities. Under the code all citizens were recognized as equal, and all class privileges were done away with.
The influence of the Napoleonic code was somewhat diminished at the start of the 20th century by the introduction of the German Civil Code in 1900 and the Swiss Civil Code in 1912.

Development of Modern Codes
The influence of the Justinian Code was great. Long after Rome fell, Roman law, as codified by Justinian, continued to serve as a source of law in Europe in the form of civil law. Through a 13th-century Spanish code called Siete Partidas (Seven Parts) that was based partly on the Justinian Code, the Justinian Code was later extended to the New World and, with the Siete Partidas, became the basis for the legal systems of most of Latin America.
A modern code is designed to provide a comprehensive statement of the laws in force in a single branch of the law in a logical and convenient arrangement and in precise and unambiguous phraseology. Modern codes include codes of civil, criminal, and public law and codes of civil and criminal procedures.
Statesmen of modern times have regarded legal codes as necessary instruments of national unity and central authority. Napoleon planned the Code Civil des Français, later renamed the Code Napoléon, as a means of consolidating his realm. The Code Napoléon, one of the most important modern codes, is the basis of the legal systems of Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania, Italy, Portugal, Santo Domingo, Haiti, the state of Louisiana in the United States, and the province of Quebec in Canada. It also influenced the legal systems of a number of Latin American countries.

British Codes
In Great Britain, the legal system is based on common law, and codification has largely been a problem of consolidating common and statute law.
US Codes
In the United States, law is derived largely from English common law; but the problem of codification has been complicated by the existence of a multiplicity of sovereign governmental jurisdictions, and two general sets of codes have developed, federal and state codes, with divergences on many points. However, largely as a result of the pioneering work of the American jurist David Dudley Field, considerably more than half the states have adopted uniform codes of civil and criminal procedure, and all of them have enacted uniform legislation with respect to negotiable credit instruments.
The common law systems of England, and later of the United States, developed in a different manner. Before the Norman Conquest (1066), England was a loose confederation of societies, the laws of which were largely tribal and local. The Anglo-Norman rulers created a system of centralized courts that operated under a single set of laws that superseded the rules laid down by earlier societies. This legal system, known as the common law of England, began with common customs, but over time it involved the courts in lawmaking that was responsive to changes in society.

Substantive and Procedural Law

In broad terms, substantive law defines the rights and duties of people; procedural law defines and deals with procedures for enforcing those rights and duties. Substantive law determines a wide variety of matters—for example, what is required to form a contract, what the difference is between larceny and robbery, when one is entitled to compensation for an injury, and so on.
The rules of procedure and jurisdiction determine the court or administrative agency that may handle a claim or dispute; the form of the trial, hearing, or appeal; the time limits involved; and so on. Related rules also cover the kinds of evidence that may be presented. Such rules are more limiting in trial courts than in administrative agencies. The fine points of procedural law are considerable, but they are generally thought to be indispensable to whatever efficiency and fairness law may have.

Public Law
Public law concerns the relationships both within a government and between governments and individuals. Because the Roman codes were almost entirely limited to the private area, public law is usually not codified, that is, arranged systematically into a set code. In civil law countries, separate administrative courts adjudicate claims and disputes between the various branches of government and citizens, and many lawyers specialize in public law.
Public law is not quite so clearly demarcated in the United Kingdom. Under the common law approach the same courts handle public and private litigation. Because the United Kingdom has no written constitution, basic principles pertaining to government powers and limits and to fundamental individual rights are found in acts of Parliament, judicial opinions, and tradition.
Historically, criminal law in the United Kingdom included crimes defined by the courts. The public law nature of the area is further emphasized by other constitutional protections such as the right of the accused to remain silent and the right to effective counsel.

Private Law
Private law involves the various relationships that people have with one another and the rules that determine their legal rights and duties among themselves. The area is concerned with rules and principles pertaining to private ownership and use of property, contracts between individuals, family relationships, and redress by way of compensation for harm inflicted on one person by another. Historically, government involvement was usually minimal. Private law has also operated to provide general guidelines and security in private arrangements and interactions in ways that are complementary to morality and custom but that are not necessarily enforceable in a court of law, such as noncontractual promises and agreements within an association of private individuals.

The Main Branches of Positive Law

In modern legal systems there are two primary branches of law. These are criminal law and civil law.
Criminal law defines offenses so harmful to society that violations are punished by fines, imprisonment, or even death. Such offenses include murder, armed robbery, theft, rape, kidnapping, assault, and embezzlement. In the late 20th century, many nations have added laws on airplane hijacking and terrorist activities to their books because both involve violence against people.
Civil laws define the rights and liabilities of individuals in relation to each other and to society. Actions in civil law may enable one person to recover money from another, for example, but it does not require payment of money to the government in the form of a fine. If, for instance, one person hires another to do work for him, and they sign a contract, the individual must do the work or he is considered to have broken the contract. The one who breaks the contract may be sued in court. One of the most common types of civil actions is the divorce trial, in which a contract is at issue.

In a criminal action a governmental unit asks the court to try an individual who is alleged to have committed a specific offense.

In civil cases, generally one person the plaintiff asks the court to determine whether another person the defendant has violated the plaintiff's rights in some way and should, therefore, make up for it in some way. Usually the plaintiff asks the court to order the defendant to pay an amount owed, either because of a promise in the form of a contract or by way of damages because the defendant caused injury to the plaintiff. If the court agrees, it will issue an injunction, an order that a person take some action (such as deliver goods that were promised in a contract) or refrain from doing something (such as playing a radio so loud that it disturbs the neighbors). Violation of an injunction, however, changes the action from a civil one to a criminal one, because failing to carry out the instructions of the court is a criminal offense, that is, an offense against the state. An individual who violates an injunction is, therefore, subject to imprisonment or fine.


Because law is complex and because most people are involved in legal actions only rarely, professionals are needed to study law and handle legal matters for other people. Lawyers advise individuals and organizations on the requirements of law, draft legal documents, and plead cases in court.
Another name for lawyer is attorney. Strictly speaking, an attorney is one who acts for another, an appointed agent. Someone so appointed who is not a lawyer is sometimes called an attorney-in-fact, as distinguished from an attorney-at-law.
Some lawyers maintain a general practice to assist the public in all matters of ordinary law. But many lawyers, because of the complexity of the field, become specialists in such areas as tax law, administrative law, family law, labor law, corporation law, criminal law, contract law, or other branches.

Careers in Law

Legal education varies from country to country. In England, law can be studied in college and a bachelor's degree is awarded, usually after four years. But additional training is required to become an experienced, practicing lawyer. The graduate is articled, or apprenticed, to one or more senior lawyers for at least a year before being licensed to practice as a solicitor. Solicitors may not represent clients in court; only barristers may do that. There are associations of barristers who control the admission of candidates to argue cases in the courts. This situation of having the legal profession divided into solicitors and barristers is called a split bar. Some other European countries also have a split bar. In France, for example, only a special group of lawyers avocats, meaning are licensed to argue in court.
In the United States, lawyers are required to be college graduates and to attend a law school for three years. Upon graduating from law school, the student receives the degree of Juris Doctor (doctor of law). In addition, the law school graduate must pass an examination before being admitted to the bar. (The legal profession is called the bar because, when the profession was developing in England many centuries ago, there was a fence in courtrooms separating the judges' area from the rest of the room. This fence was called the bar, and it became customary to say that a lawyer was called to the bar, meaning he was called upon to practice his profession.)

The field of law is so vast that lawyers, in addition to going into private practice or joining law firms, find employment in other ways. Some work exclusively for corporations. Others work in all branches at every level of government. Each government department usually has a full-time legal staff. A legal education is also useful in other occupations. About 10 percent of the chief executive officers of large corporations are lawyers. Most politicians and many bankers, stockbrokers, and businessmen have had a legal education.

Common Law and Civil Law

Common Law, term used to refer to the main body of English unwritten law that evolved from the 12th century onwards. The name comes from the idea that English medieval law, as administered by the courts of the realm, reflected the “common” customs of the kingdom. This system of law prevails in England and Wales and in those countries, such as Canada and the United States, that were originally colonized by English settlers.
The Legal System
The common law is based on the principle of deciding cases by reference to previous judicial decisions, rather than to written statutes drafted by legislative bodies. Common law can be contrasted to the civil law system, based on ancient Roman law, found in continental Europe and elsewhere (See Civil Law; Roman Law). Whereas civil law judges resolve disputes by referring to statutory principles arrived at in advance, common law judges focus more intently on the facts of the particular case to arrive at a fair and equitable result for the litigants.
As the US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in his book, The Common Law (1881): “The life of the acommoni law has not been logic; it has been experience”.
Civil Law, term applied to the body of private law used in those countries in which the legal system is based on ancient Roman law as modified by medieval and modern influences. Civil law is used in most nations in Europe and Latin America, as well as in some countries in Asia and Africa. The law of the United States, Canada, and a number of other nations is based on English common law, which differs from civil law in origin and other important respects.
The term civil law is also employed to distinguish those legal codes that deal with civil relationships (such as citizenship, marriage, divorce, and certain contractual arrangements) from other codes such as those dealing with criminal law and maritime law.
Historical Development
The civil law originated in ancient Rome. One of the principal characteristics of Roman civilization was the development of strong legal institutions. The principles and rules of Roman law were based partly on legislation and partly on the utterances of great legal scholars who were routinely asked for their opinions by judicial officers confronting difficult legal issues in the determination of lawsuits. In the 6th century, a commission appointed by the Emperor Justinian collected and consolidated all the sources of law, including the opinions rendered by the great legal scholars during previous centuries. The result was the Corpus Juris Civilis (Body of Civil Law), also called the Justinian Code, a comprehensive code embodying the accumulated wisdom and experience of many generations of Roman jurists.
Justinian's realm was essentially limited to the eastern half of the Roman Empire; the western half had already been overrun by Germanic invaders. Thus, Justinian's Corpus Juris had no immediate effect in western Europe, where the period from the 5th to the 10th century was one of cultural decline. In the course of the intellectual reawakening that occurred in the second half of the 11th century, the Corpus Juris was rediscovered in Italy. About the same time, the study of academic law was instituted at the newly founded University of Bologna, where the law professors based their teaching on the Corpus Juris. Other European universities followed suit, and the Code became an important element in the development of Continental law until relatively modern times.
Comparison of Civil Law and Common Law
The codes of civil law and court procedures vary widely, but in general they are distinguished from common law in several significant ways. In contrast to the uninterrupted evolution of common law, the development of civil law was marked by a major break with the past, which occurred as the result of the 19th-century codification efforts. In civil law, judicial interpretations are based primarily on this system of codified written law, rather than on the rule of precedent that is emphasized in the common law. The law of evidence, so important in common-law countries, has no counterpart in the civil law.
Much more systematically than the common law, the civil law separates public and private law. In most civil-law nations, public-law disputes are determined by a hierarchy of administrative courts, which are separate from the ordinary courts that have jurisdiction over private-law disputes and criminal cases. In common-law countries, private- and public-law disputes are usually determined by the same courts.
Trial by jury, a major feature of the common-law system, is not often used in the civil law. A jury is never employed in the determination of civil procedures
The differences between civil law and common law, however, should not be overstated. Despite divergences in methods and terminology, a basic similarity is found in the ultimate results reached by both systems. The trend is towards a closer relationship between the approaches of the common law and the civil law.

Courts, branch of government established to administer the civil and criminal law. The term court is also applied to the international tribunals intended to provide for the resolution at law of controversies among governments, namely, the Permanent Court of International Justice, established by the League of Nations after World War I, and the International Court of Justice, established by the United Nations after World War II.
Courts are classified in many ways. Among the more usual general classifications are courts of record and courts not of record; courts of superior jurisdiction and courts of inferior jurisdiction; courts of first instance and appellate courts; and civil courts and criminal courts. In courts of record the proceedings are recorded completely; no detailed record is made of the proceedings in courts not of record. Courts of superior jurisdiction, often called higher courts or appellate courts, are generally those to which appeals are made from decisions of courts of inferior jurisdiction, referred to as lower courts or courts of first instance. Civil and criminal courts deal with cases arising from infractions of the civil law and the criminal law, respectively. Courts with special, limited jurisdictions are known by the names of those jurisdictions. For example, probate or surrogate's courts are tribunals dealing with the probate of wills and the disposition of estates. The judicial organs of military establishments are called military courts. They have jurisdiction over infractions by military personnel. Admiralty courts have jurisdiction over cases arising from maritime contracts and from violations of maritime law. Other courts are designated by the territorial limits of their jurisdictions.

COURTS OF JUSTICE. One of the chief purposes of government is to insure domestic tranquillity. Helping keep such promises of peace and order within nations is the primary function of every court system in every nation. The courts are the branch of government that must make decisions about problems of civil and criminal law with fairness and strength. Otherwise some people would be tempted to take the law into their own hands, creating a social atmosphere of violence and anarchy.
The word court originally meant the enclosed space in a courtyard where a king or other ruler sat to settle disputes and to decide upon punishments for crimes. Today the word has several meanings. It may mean the room where a trial is held. It may also refer to the judge, several judges sitting in a group, or the judges and other officers of the court.
There are many different types of courts and several ways of classifying them. A basic distinction must be made between trial courts and courts of appeal. Trial courts, also called of first instance, deal with the parties in conflict, hear witnesses, receive evidence, search out facts, and render a verdict, or decision.
Courts of appeal review the work of trial courts and correct their errors, if any.
Courts can also be classified by the types of cases they handle either civil or criminal. In some countries there are courts of general jurisdiction, meaning that they may deal with cases of both kinds. There are also specialized tribunals, or courts of limited jurisdiction, that deal with specific types of cases such as divorce or labor disputes. And the armed services have their own legal system and courts.

Criminal Courts

Criminal courts deal with individuals accused of crimes. The purpose of the trial, normally held before a jury, is to decide whether the accused is guilty or not and, if guilty, what the punishment should be.
Prosecution in criminal trials is undertaken on behalf of the public by a public official who is usually a lawyer, such as a district attorney or state's attorney. This is because all crimes are crimes against government in that they violate laws meant to insure domestic tranquillity. Although the courts are a branch of government, they are neutral in criminal trials between the prosecution and the defense: their objective is to decide between the two in accordance with the law and the evidence presented.
Some countries, particularly in Europe, are civil-law countries. In such nations a more active role is assigned to the judge and a more passive role to the attorneys than in the common-law nations such as Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and the United States. In common-law courts the adversarial process is used: lawyers for both sides have the responsibility of producing evidence, and they do most of the questioning of witnesses. In civil-law countries the judges do most of the questioning and bear the responsibility of discovering the facts of the case.

Civil Courts

Civil courts are not involved with offenses against government. They deal with private problems between individuals or corporations in dispute over such matters as the responsibility for an automobile accident or over the terms of a contract. Civil suits produce the most massive and rapidly growing number of cases in the court systems. Some common examples of civil cases are suits for medical malpractice or damages from libel, and those filed by relatives of disaster victims.
The public is not ordinarily involved in such proceedings because it has no interest beyond providing the rules for a decision and a fair evaluation. Civil suits are, therefore, not prosecuted by the state as are criminal cases. In a civil suit each party engages a lawyer to present the evidence and to question the witnesses.
The object of a civil action in which the defendant is judged to be wrong is not punishment or correction of the defendant but an attempt to restore the situation to what it would have been had no legal wrong been committed. The most common decision in such cases is an order to the defendant to pay money to the wronged party. Other types of rulings in civil cases include an injunction ordering the defendant not to do something or a judgment restoring property to its rightful owner.
There are occasions in which civil and criminal acts may overlap. In a hit-and-run accident, for instance, if someone is killed and the driver is found to be at fault, he may be tried by the state in a criminal case for negligent homicide. And he may also be sued for damages in a civil trial. In the United States there are two separate trials for such a case. In France and some other nations both types of responsibility civil and criminal can be determined in a single proceeding under a concept known as adhesion. This means that the injured party is allowed to make a civil claim during the criminal prosecution, agreeing to abide by its outcome. Common-law nations do not have this procedure.

Inferior Courts

In many jurisdictions there are what are called inferior courts. They handle minor civil and criminal cases. In addition, they may also deal with preliminary phases of serious criminal cases such as setting bail, advising defendants of their rights, appointing defense counsel, and conducting hearings to decide whether evidence is sufficient to justify holding defendants for trial in higher, or superior, courts.

Appellate Courts

All of the above-mentioned courts are trial courts, or courts of first instance. Above them, to review their work, are the appellate, or appeals, courts.
The responsibilities of appellate courts are normally general. Such courts handle cases in which the fairness of other courts' decisions is questioned, or appealed. An appellate court is usually presided over by several judges instead of the single judge who presides over a trial court.
After the verdict has been rendered in a trial, an appeal is not automatic. It must be sought by some party who feels wronged by the trial ruling. An exception to this practice is acquittal in a murder case. An individual who has been found not guilty of murder may not be tried again, nor may the state appeal the acquittal to a higher court.


Military law has jurisdiction over members of the armed forces. But it may also relate to civilians in some instances, including conscripts who fail to report for induction, reservists who commit offenses, and former military personnel whose offenses are committed within a specific period after their release from the service.
There is always a formal investigation before a trial conducted by a military court. This is normally conducted by a military magistrate and set in motion by a procurator, who is comparable to a prosecutor in civilian criminal trials. There is an assumption of the accused's innocence, and allowances are made for the time and facilities to prepare a defense.

Trial, legal hearing of a case in a court of law. The trial is the full hearing which decides the case, whether it is a criminal or civil matter. A similar procedure for both applies in most English-speaking countries; the emphasis is on adversarial procedures, and on oral rather than written arguments and evidence.
Trial Documents
Every trial has a document (or set of documents) which gives the case its structure. Everything essential to the matter at issue should be in it, and the trial should not investigate matters which are not in it. In criminal trials the document is simple: an indictment in the Crown Court and an information in the magistrates' court. These merely describe the offence, giving as much detail as is available of where, when, and in what manner it was committed. The indictment is the more formal of the two, and everything alleged in it must be proved. If a trial proceeds on an indictment with a fundamental error it will be invalid, regardless of what is revealed in the course of the trial.
In civil actions, the set of documents is called the pleadings. The basic pleadings are a statement of claim from the plaintiff (the person who brought the action to court), and a defence from the defendant (the person against whom the action is brought). These should summarize what is in dispute between the parties.
Trial Procedure
Civil and criminal trials follow roughly the same course. One party opens the case: in criminal matters this is always the prosecution; in civil matters it is usually the plaintiff (prosecution), but if the defence is the only party seeking to prove anything, it will open. In either case it is usual for the party's lawyer to make a speech to the tribunal outlining the case. Throughout the trial, the actual parties, if legally represented, are rarely more than spectators, and the case is run by their lawyers: they will usually only speak in court as witnesses during the trial.
After the opening speech the prosecution calls witnesses, each of whom make an oath to tell the truth, or an affirmation if he or she objects to religious oaths; breach of this is the essence of the offence of perjury, of lying in court. The witness then goes through his or her evidence, in answer to questions from the prosecution, in the examination-in-chief. The prosecution may not ask leading questions, that is, questions which indicate to the witness the answer that is expected, unless the matter is not disputed between the parties, or in order to elicit a denial from the witness. Such rules are meant to ensure that the witness's evidence is not indirectly supplied by the lawyer asking the questions.
After the examination-in-chief is complete, the defence may cross-examine the witness. The cross-examiner is permitted leading questions, and they are widely used. The object of cross-examination is to test the evidence given, and an experienced practitioner seeks to do several things: to destroy or weaken the credibility of the adverse evidence and of the witness; to suggest ways in which the evidence given may be favourable to the defence; and to bring out additional evidence that is in itself favourable to the defence. The prosecution then has the opportunity to repair any damage done in reexamination, but not to produce new evidence.
When all the prosecution witnesses have given evidence the prosecution case is complete. In criminal trials the defence will often make a legal submission to the judge at this point that there is no case to answer: this is a claim that the evidence is so inadequate that the case could not possibly be proved. If the submission is successful, the case will be stopped: in a jury trial the judge will direct the jury to acquit. If it is unsuccessful, the defence puts forward its case.
The defence may make an opening speech if its case is complicated and may benefit from an outline at the start. It then calls witnesses, who are examined, cross-examined, and reexamined in the same way, except that the roles of the two sides are reversed. Often, especially in criminal trials, the defence will call no evidence, but instead try to show in the speeches that the prosecution case is not proved. It may do this even if a submission of no case to answer has already been rejected.
After the defence has had the opportunity to call witnesses, each side makes speeches to the tribunal. These summarize the evidence and attempt to present its case in the best light possible. In civil cases the prosecution usually has the last word; in criminal cases, the defendant always has the last say. When there is a jury, the judge will then sum up to them: this should mean an impartial description of the evidence they have heard, and a definitive explanation of the relevant law. In criminal cases the judge should tell the jury that the prosecution must prove its case beyond reasonable doubt: the tribunal must be sure that the defendant is guilty. Civil cases are decided on the balance of probabilities: an allegation is proved if the tribunal thinks it more likely to be true than not.
After the summing-up, the jury members retire to consider their verdict, and do not separate until they come to a conclusion or are certain that they cannot agree. Formerly, a jury's verdict had to be unanimous; in the United Kingdom in the 1960s, allegations that single members of juries had been bribed or threatened to refuse to agree to a guilty verdict led to the introduction of majority verdicts. A jury verdict by a majority of ten to two is now valid. If the jury members cannot agree, they will usually be discharged, and the case will be reheard before a new jury.

When there is no jury, the tribunal—judge or magistrates—will give its verdict (in criminal cases) or judgment (in civil cases), often after retiring for consideration for some time. In more complex civil matters, a judge may postpone giving judgment for days or weeks, and at an appointed time produce a judgment written in the interim.
In criminal trials, the judge then proceeds to sentencing, after a speech from the defence in mitigation. In civil trials the judge will make an order embodying the judgment, often asking lawyers on both sides to draft the order. Legal costs are usually awarded to the winning party, but there are penalties for unreasonable behaviour in the course of litigation. Costs are also “taxed”, an assessment by a court officer, and this often means the winning party will get less in costs than is owed to his or her legal advisers.
The conclusion of a trial should be the final determination of an issue. Indeed, a defendant may not be put in double jeopardy by being tried again for the same crime. However, the losing party in all other cases may appeal to a court of appeal, which will consider the course of the trial. if the winner seeks assistance from the law in enforcing the judgment of the court in his or her favour.

JURY SYSTEM. Any panel of people that judges a beauty contest, music contest, art show, or other competition may be called a jury. But the predominant use of the word is as a legal term for a panel of people sworn to try to declare a verdict in a court trial. The jury system using a jury to decide such verdicts is used in several countries. The word jury is derived from the French jurer, which means swear an oath.


The jury system, as it exists now, is entirely the creation of the British and American legal systems. Efforts to introduce trial by jury into the legal systems of other nations had some limited success in the 19th century. Beginning about 1850, however, juries were gradually abolished or used far less throughout Europe. In the 20th century, with the rise of fascism, Nazism, and Communism in Europe and elsewhere, jury systems were abolished outright. In the second half of the 20th century, more than 90 percent of all jury trials took place in the United States. Most of the remainder occurred in England and other nations of the Commonwealth, especially Australia and Canada.

The ancient world.

Although the modern jury system originated during the late Middle Ages in England, trial by jury was one of the most prominent features of public life in ancient Athens, probably the most democratic of the Greek city-states. In Aristotle's 'Constitution of Athens', there are some striking similarities to modern processes for assembling juries. The chief difference is that all matters pertaining to a trial in Athens were in the hands of nonprofessionals. There was no judge, well trained in all aspects of law, to guide the jurors in their deliberations. All jurors were chosen by lot for a particular trial, as was the magistrate who presided over the court.
In addition, there were no trial lawyers. During a trial, any citizen could prosecute a case and the defendant had to conduct his own defense. These were truly people's courts. Every year a jury list of several thousand names was made up from the census of citizens. Juries for ordinary cases consisted of from 200 to 500 members, much larger than the 12-member trial juries that are standard today. At the famous trial of the philosopher Socrates in 399 BC, there were 501 jurors.
After evidence was presented in such trials and speeches were made by the prosecutor and the defendant, there was no jury deliberation, as there is in modern trials. Each member of the jury was given two metal tokens before the trial began. One signified guilt and the other innocence. At the end of the trial, each juror put the token representing his decision into a brass urn and threw the other into a wooden box. The tokens in the urn were counted and the verdict rendered on the basis of a majority vote. Socrates, for example, was found guilty by a majority of 60 tokens. If there was a tie vote, the defendant was declared innocent. After the trial all jurors were paid for their services.
Although this system represented an advanced form of direct democracy, it had disadvantages: There were no legal experts to state legal precedents. The juries were too large, closer to the size of legislative bodies. And verdicts could easily be based on the whims and passions of the population at a given moment, instead of being derived from the practices of settled law. This is, in fact, what happened in the trial of Socrates.

In the Roman Republic juries were used for trials in much the same manner as in Greece. But under the emperors trial by jury was abolished and ceased to exist as a factor in Western law until it emerged in England after the Norman Conquest in AD 1066. The roots of the English jury system lie in a practice established by the emperor Charlemagne in early 9th-century France. He sent groups of citizens throughout his domain to inspect the courts of justice and to ascertain the rights of the monarchy in relation to the nobility. The custom passed into Normandy, on the northwestern coast of France, and from there to England with William the Conqueror, who used it in much the same way.
Under Henry II, who ruled from 1154 to 1189, the custom of using average citizens to pass judgment in civil matters, especially in controversies over property, came into use. The use of juries in criminal cases murder, assault, treason, and others came more slowly. In 1166 Henry established the practice that 12 men be present at all county court sessions to present to the justices the names of persons suspected of crimes. This was the beginning of the grand jury the jury that indicts people, or charges them with a crime, but does not try them.
In 1367 the size of the petit, or trial jury was fixed at 12. After the 14th century unanimous verdicts (verdicts in which all jurors agree) were required by law in England until the Criminal Justice Act of 1967 introduced majority jury verdicts. In the United States today, a unanimous verdict is not always required in state courts. However, it is a requirement in the federal courts.


In the early centuries of the trial jury system there were some minimum requirements for service as a juror, such as ownership of property and clear mental competence. Women were not allowed to serve. This has changed in the 20th century. The principle of random selection from among qualified voters has come to be common in the United States, England, Canada, and Australia. In the United States, jury selection is often based on voter registration rolls. In many jurisdictions, persons engaged in certain professions lawyers, members of the clergy, physicians, and police were exempt from jury duty, but many states have changed their laws in this regard.
To be called for jury duty does not necessarily mean that one will actually serve. Before the trial begins, potential jurors are questioned by the judge and by lawyers for the defendant and the plaintiff. The law allows the lawyer to challenge jurors for cause, such as a specific bias in the case. A limited number of peremptory challenges are also allowed; these are challenges for which no cause need be stated. This screening process is called voir dire, meaning say the truth. It can become very complex and time-consuming, especially in a case that has received a great deal of publicity.

During a trial, whether civil or criminal, the jury is under the supervision of the judge. It is the judge who decides what evidence the jury may hear, according to complex and established rules of evidence. If the judge decides the evidence presented leaves no matter of fact to be resolved, the judge may direct a verdict of acquittal. This effectively ends the proceedings. In a civil trial the judge may, on his or her own, find in favor of the defendant or the plaintiff. But in a criminal trial the judge may not direct a guilty verdict; this is the responsibility of the jury. The judge, in most cases, also explains the legal aspects of the evidence and the duties of the jury. If the jury's verdict is completely at odds with the weight of the evidence, the judge may set it aside. The exception to this rule is acquittal in a criminal trial: acquittal is final. Persons who are acquitted cannot be tried again for the same crime (or placed in double jeopardy).
In many jurisdictions, if a verdict of guilty is rendered by a jury, the jury must also be present for a hearing on sentencing and may be asked to decide what the sentence should be. In civil cases, the jury is asked to decide on the damages to be awarded to the plaintiff. In some jurisdictions the awarding of damages or sentencing are part of the original trial. In other places they become the subject of what is virtually a second trial. Where the death penalty is in effect and could be a sentence, a jury is required at least to express an opinion on whether it should be used.

Merits and criticisms. Along with other parts of the political structure, the jury trial system has come under a great deal of criticism for its competence and performance. It has been claimed that because juries are drawn from such a wide range of the populace, they do not have the intelligence or sophistication to deal with the complexities of law. To counter this criticism, it is argued that a jury of nonexperts brings a good deal of common sense and openness to a trial. This results in cases being decided in the spirit of the law, rather than by the rigidity of individual statutes. A jury also may provide a useful counterweight to the biases (if any) of the judge and lawyers involved in a trial. Although juries are strictly confined by law to the finding of facts, their presence frequently injects a sense of justice into the proceedings, either on the side of the defendant or the plaintiff.

CRIMINAL LAW. In all advanced legal systems treason, murder, aggravated assault, theft, robbery, burglary, arson, and rape are considered to be major offenses of criminal law. Criminal law not only determines what is criminal conduct but also regulates the methods of capturing, charging, and trying suspected criminals; imposes penalties on convicted offenders; and determines the methods by which a convicted person can challenge and seek to overturn the conviction. Criminal law is one of two main branches of what is known in Western society as positive law; the other is civil law.
Criminal Law, branch of law that defines crimes and fixes punishments for them. Also included in criminal law are rules and procedures for preventing and investigating crimes and prosecuting criminals, as well as the regulations governing the constitution of courts, the conduct of trials, the organization of police forces, and the administration of penal institutions. In general, the criminal law of most modern societies classifies crimes as offences against the safety of the society; offences against the administration of justice; offences against the public welfare; offences against property; and offences threatening the lives or safety of persons.

Criminal Conduct

A crime is defined as such by law. This first principle of legality is the keystone of criminal law. The principle directs that laws defining offenses be clear and strictly interpreted. And it forbids the application of the law retroactively, meaning a law must have been in effect at the time the act was committed.
Legal systems traditionally do not allow double jeopardy, meaning prosecuting someone more than once for the same offense. It is possible at times for an individual to be tried for essentially the same act in two different jurisdictions, or areas of authority.
All systems of law have statutes of limitation, or laws that restrict the length of time within which legal proceedings may be brought against a person. Such statutes are enacted to protect against stale claims after evidence has been lost, memories have faded, or witnesses have died or disappeared. The periods vary depending on the seriousness of the offense. In German law, for instance, the periods range from three months for petty misdemeanors to 30 years for crimes involving a life sentence. In many countries, including the United States, there is no statute of limitations for certain serious crimes such as murder.
Legal systems also define in what courts specific crimes will be prosecuted. In the United States such crimes as murder, arson, rape, burglary, robbery, and shoplifting are prosecuted in state or local courts. For a crime to be dealt with in a federal court, it must be an offense against federal law, or it must come to the federal court as the result of an appeal of a decision made in another court. Most governments claim jurisdiction over the acts of their own citizens even when these acts have occurred abroad. Therefore, most countries decline any obligation to surrender their citizens to the jurisdiction of other countries. This is called a refusal to extradite. Even within the United States one state may refuse to extradite an alleged criminal to another state for trial.

Ingredients of a Crime

It is generally agreed that the essential elements of a crime are voluntary action or failure to act and a certain state of mind. Failure to act includes not doing something an individual is required to do by law, such as file an income tax form or get a driver's license before operating an automobile.
The mental element in a crime is that the person committing it usually acts purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently.
It has long been said that ignorance of the law is no excuse, and criminal-law systems generally recognize this principle. It is no defense for a person to say he was unaware that what he did was against the law. Behind this is the supposition that criminal acts may be recognized as harmful and immoral by any reasonable adult. By contrast most countries recognize that an individual who acts in ignorance of the facts of his action is not criminally responsible. Hence, someone who takes another person's goods, believing them to be his own, has not committed larceny because he lacks intent to steal. Any inconvenience he has caused the other person may, however, be a matter taken up in civil law.
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