Law is a set of rules enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate human behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of ongoing debate. The law may be codified by a legislature in statutes or constitutions, or it can be established by judges through precedent, as in common law jurisdictions. Regardless of how it is made, the law reflects the shape of the physical world and human capabilities. It is impossible to empirically prove whether or not the law should comprise particular precepts.
Law consists of numerous fields and areas of expertise, each with its own terminology. Some of the most important terms are:
arraignment – The legal proceeding in which a person accused of a crime is brought into court, told about the charges against him or her, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.
brief – The written statement submitted by each lawyer for a case to the judge(s), explaining how he or she believes the law should be applied to the facts of the case. The briefs are read aloud during trial.
capital offense – A serious criminal offense punishable by death.
civil law – The branch of law dealing with the rights and obligations of individuals and their relationships with one another, such as contract, tort, property or family law. This is in contrast to criminal law, which deals with crimes against the state or other members of a community. In the broad sense, the term civil law can also refer to a system of law, based on codification and custom that developed in Europe in the 18th century, in which laws were consolidated into small books of French and German code.
eminent domain – The right to seize private property by eminent domain proceedings, which are normally conducted by government agencies or local governments. This is in contrast to a property’s traditional right to a freehold title, which is generally reserved for the owner of that land and is protected by civil law principles.
evidence – Any piece of information or proof used in a trial to convince a jury that a defendant is guilty of a crime.
deposition – A questioning of witnesses by opposing counsel, usually in preparation for a trial or other legal proceedings.
docket – A log containing brief entries of court proceedings.
en banc – “In the full bench.” This term refers to cases that a court decides are so important that it will hold a special session with the entire membership of the court rather than a smaller group.
precedent – A decision by a higher court that must be followed by the lower courts unless there is a compelling reason or significantly different facts or issues. The decision is binding unless overturned.
Tax law – The body of regulations that establishes how to calculate and pay taxes in a given area or country.
Banking law – The set of rules and regulations that governs the activities of banks in order to protect investors from fraud.