Law [From Old English "lagu" "something laid down or fixed"; "legal" comes from Latin "legalis", from "lex" "law", "statute" ( [ Law] , Online Etymology Dictionary; [ Legal] , Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary)] is a system of rules, enforced through a set of institutions, [Robertson, "Crimes against humanity", 90; see jurisprudence for extensive debate on what law is; H.L.A Hart argued law is a "system of rules" in his work "The Concept of Law" (Campbell, "The Contribution of Legal Studies", 184); John Austin said law was "the command of a sovereign, backed by the threat of a sanction" (Bix, [ John Austin] ); Ronald Dworkin describes law as an "interpretive concept" to achieve justice (Dworkin, "Law's Empire", 410); and Joseph Raz argues law is an "authority" to mediate people's interests (Raz, "The Authority of Law", 3–36).] used as an instrument to underpin civil obedience, politics, economics and society. Law serves as the foremost social mediator in relations between people. Writing in 350 BC, the Greek philosopher Aristotle declared, "The rule of law is better than the rule of any individual." [n.b. this translation reads, "it is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens" (Aristotle, "Politics" ).]

Law consists of a wide variety of separate disciplines. Contract law regulates biding agreements which may relate to everything from civil purchase to trading on derivatives markets. Property law defines rights and obligations related to the transfer and title of personal and real property. Trust law applies to assets held for investment and financial security, while Tort law allows claims for compensation an individual or their property is injured or harmed. If the harm is criminalised in penal code, criminal law offers means by which the state can prosecute the perpetrator. Constitutional law provides a framework for the creation of law, the protection of human rights and the election of political representatives. Administrative law regulates the activities the administrative agencies of government, while International law governs affairs between sovereign nation states in activities ranging from trade, environmental regualation or military action.

Legal systems elaborate rights and responsibilities in a variety of ways. A basic distinction is generally made between civil law jurisdictions and systems using common law. In some countries, religion informs the law. Scholars investigate the nature of law through many perspectives, including legal history and philosophy, or social sciences such as economics and sociology. The study of law raises important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness, liberty and justice. "In its majestic equality", said the author Anatole France in 1894, "the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread." [The original French is: "La loi, dans un grand souci d'égalité, interdit aux riches comme aux pauvres de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain" (France, "The Red Lily", [ Chapter VII] ).] The central institutions for interpreting and creating law are the three main branches of government, namely an impartial judiciary, a democratic legislature and an accountable executive. To implement and enforce the law and provide services to the public, a government's bureaucracy, the military and police are vital. While all these organs of the state are creatures created and bound by law, an independent legal profession and a vibrant civil society inform and support their progress.

Legal subjects

All legal systems deal with similar issues and behaviors, but each country categorises and identifies its legal standards and principals in different ways. A common distinction is that between "public law" (a term related closely to the state, and including constitutional, administrative and criminal law), and "private law" (which covers contract, tort and property). [ Although many scholars argue that "the boundaries between public and private law are becoming blurred", and that this distinction has become mere "folklore" (Bergkamp, "Liability and Environment", 1–2).] In civil law systems, contract and tort fall under a general law of obligations, while trusts law is dealt with under statutory regimes or international conventions. International, constitutional and administrative law, criminal law, contract, tort, property law and trusts are regarded as the "traditional core subjects", [E.g. in England these seven subjects, with EU law substituted for international law, make up a "qualifying law degree". For criticism, see Peter Birks' poignant comments attached to a previous version of the [ Notice to Law Schools] .] although there are many further disciplines which may be of greater practical importance.

International law

International law can refer to three things: public international law, private international law or conflict of laws and the law of supranational organisations.

*Public international law concerns relationships between sovereign nations. The sources for public international law development are custom, practice and treaties between sovereign nations, such as the Geneva Conventions. Public international law can be formed by international organisations, such as the United Nations (which was established after the failure of the League of Nations to prevent the Second World War), [ [ History of the UN] , United Nations. Winston Churchill ("The Hinge of Fate", 719) comments on the League of Nations' failure: "It was wrong to say that the League failed. It was rather the member states who had failed the League."] the International Labour Organisation, the World Trade Organisation, or the International Monetary Fund. Public international law has a special status as law because there is no international police force, and courts (e.g. the International Court of Justice as the primary UN judicial organ) lack the capacity to penalise disobedience. [The prevailing manner of enforcing international law is still essentially "self help"; that is the reaction by states to alleged breaches of international obligations by other states (Robertson, "Crimes against Humanity", 90; Schermers-Blokker, "International Institutional Law", 900–901).] However, a few bodies, such as the WTO, have effective systems of binding arbitration and dispute resolution backed up by trade sanctions. [Petersmann, "The GATT/WTO Dispute Settlement System", 32]

* Conflict of laws (or "private international law" in civil law countries) concerns which jurisdiction a legal dispute between private parties should be heard in and which jurisdiction's law should be applied. Today, businesses are increasingly capable of shifting capital and labour supply chains across borders, as well as trading with overseas businesses. Increasing numbers of businesses opt for commercial arbitration under the New York Convention 1958. [Redfem, "International Commercial Arbitration", 68–69]

*European Union law is the first, and so far, only example of a supranational legal framework. Given the trend of increasing global economic integration, many regional agreements—especially the Union of South American Nations—are on track to follow the same model. In the EU, sovereign nations have gathered their authority in a system of courts and political institutions. These institutions are allowed the ability to enforce legal norms both against or for member states and citizens in a manner which is not possible through public international law. [Schermers–Blokker, "International Institutional Law", 943] As the European Court of Justice said in the 1960s, European Union law constitutes "a new legal order of international law" for the mutual social and economic benefit of the member states. [ See the fundamental [ C-26/62 "Van Gend en Loos v. Nederlanse Administratie Der Belastingen"] , and [ "Flaminio Costa v. E.N.E.L."] decisions of the European Court.]

Constitutional and administrative law

Constitutional and administrative law govern the affairs of the state. Constitutional law concerns both the relationships between the executive, legislature and judiciary and the human rights or civil liberties of individuals against the state. Most jurisdictions, like the United States and France, have a single codified constitution, with a Bill of Rights. A few, like the United Kingdom, have no such document. A "constitution" is simply those laws which constitute the body politic, from statute, case law and convention. A case named "Entick v. Carrington" ["Entick v. Carrington" (1765) 19 Howell's State Trials 1030; [1765] [ 95 ER 807] ] illustrates a constitutional principle deriving from the common law. Mr Entick's house was searched and ransacked by Sheriff Carrington. When Mr Entick complained in court, Sheriff Carrington argued that a warrant from a Government minister, the Earl of Halifax, was valid authority. However, there was no written statutory provision or court authority. The leading judge, Lord Camden, stated that,

"The great end, for which men entered into society, was to secure their property. That right is preserved sacred and incommunicable in all instances, where it has not been taken away or abridged by some public law for the good of the whole ... If no excuse can be found or produced, the silence of the books is an authority against the defendant, and the plaintiff must have judgment."

The fundamental constitutional principle, inspired by John Locke, holds that the individual can do anything but that which is forbidden by law, and the state may do nothing but that which is authorised by law. [Locke, "The Second Treatise", * Tamanaha, "On the Rule of Law", 47] Administrative law is the chief method for people to hold state bodies to account. People can apply for judicial review of actions or decisions by local councils, public services or government ministries, to ensure that they comply with the law. The first specialist administrative court was the "Conseil d'État" set up in 1799, as Napoleon assumed power in France.Auby, "Administrative Law in France", 75]

Criminal law

Criminal law (also known as penal law) regulates the definition of and penalties for offences found to have failed to comply with the basic ethical rules defined by a society.
*cite web | title=Magna Carta| url= | publisher =Fordham University|accessdate=2006-11-10
*cite web | last=Marmor | first=Andrei |url= | title= The Pure Theory of Law | accessdate=2007-02-09 | work= Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy|year=1934
*cite web | title=Saudi Arabia| url=| publisher =Jurist|accessdate=2006-09-02
*cite web|url=|title=The States Parties to the Rome Statute|publisher = International Criminal Court |accessdate=2007-02-10
*cite web|title=The World Factbook – Field Listing – Legal system| url=| publisher =CIA|accessdate=2007-10-13

Further reading

*cite book |last=Austin |first=John |authorlink=John Austin (legal philosopher) |title=The Province of Jurisprudence Determined |year=1831
*cite book |last=Hamilton |first=Michael S.|coauthors=Spiro, George W.|title=The Dynamics of Law|year=2008 |publisher=M.E. Sharpe, Inc. |isbn=978-0-7656-2086-6
*cite book |last=Hart |first=H.L.A. |title=The Concept of Law |year=1961 |publisher=Oxford University Press
*cite book |title=Major Legal Systems in the World Today: An Introduction to the Comparative Study of Law|last=René|first=David |coauthors=Brierley, John E. C. | year=1985 |publisher=Stevens |location=London|isbn=0-420-47340-8

External links

* [ Legal news and information network for attorneys and other legal professionals]
* [ Resource for education and research]
* [ Encyclopaedic project of academic initiative] in Jurispedia
* [ Legal articles, news, and interactive maps]
* [ WorldLII - World Legal Information Institute]
* [ AsianLII - Asian Legal Information Institute (AsianLII)]
* [ AustLII - Australasian Legal Information Institute]
* [ BaiLII - British and Irish Legal Information Institute]
* [ CanLII - Canadian Legal Information Institute]
* [ NZLII - New Zealand Legal Information Institute]
* [ PacLII - Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute]
* [ Legal Dictionary Online] More than 30 free specialized legal dictionaries

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