Law

Law is the set of enforced rules under which a society is governed. Law is one of the most basic social institutions-and one of the most necessary. No society could exist if all people did just as they pleased without regard for the rights of others. Nor could a society exist if its members did not recognise that they also have certain obligations toward one another. The law thus establishes the rules that define a person’s rights and obligations. The law also sets penalties for people who violate these rules, and it states how government shall enforce the rules and penalties. However, the laws enforced by government can be changed. In fact, laws frequently are changed to reflect changes in a society’s needs and attitudes.

The adjudication of the law is generally divided into two main areas. Criminal law deals with conduct that is considered harmful to social order and in which the guilty party may be imprisoned or fined. Civil law (not to be confused with civil law jurisdictions above) deals with the resolution of lawsuits (disputes) between individuals or organisations. These resolutions seek to provide a legal remedy (often monetary damages) to the winning litigant.

Under civil law, the following specialties, among others, exist: Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus ticket to trading on derivatives markets. Property law regulates the transfer and title of personal property and real property. Trust law applies to assets held for investment and financial security. Tort law allows claims for compensation if a person’s property are harmed. Constitutional law provides a framework for the creation of law, the protection of human rights and the election of political representatives. Administrative law is used to review the decisions of government agencies. International law governs affairs between sovereign states in activities ranging from trade to military action.

Criminal law

Criminal law, also known as penal law, pertains to crimes and punishment. It thus regulates the definition of and penalties for offences found to have a sufficiently deleterious social impact but, in itself, makes no moral judgment on an offender nor imposes restrictions on society that physically prevents people from committing a crime in the first place. Investigating, apprehending, charging, and trying suspected offenders is regulated by the law of criminal procedure. The paradigm case of a crime lies in the proof, beyond reasonable doubt, that a person is guilty of two things. First, the accused must commit an act which is deemed by society to be criminal, or actus reus (guilty act). Second, the accused must have the requisitemalicious intent to do a criminal act, or mens rea (guilty mind). However for so called “strict liability” crimes, an actus reus is enough. Criminal systems of the civil law tradition distinguish between intention in the broad sense (dolus directus anddolus eventualis), and negligence. Negligence does not carry criminal responsibility unless a particular crime provides for its punishment.

Contract law

Contract law concerns enforceable promises, and can be summed up in the Latin phrase pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be kept). In common law jurisdictions, three key elements to the creation of a contract are necessary: offer and acceptance, consideration and the intention to create legal relations. In Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company a medical firm advertised that its new wonder drug, the smokeball, would cure people’s flu, and if it did not, the buyers would get £100. Many people sued for their £100 when the drug did not work. Fearing bankruptcy, Carbolic argued the advert was not to be taken as a serious, legally binding offer. It was an invitation to treat, mere puff, a gimmick. But the court of appeal held that to a reasonable man Carbolic had made a serious offer. People had given good consideration for it by going to the “distinct inconvenience” of using a faulty product. “Read the advertisement how you will, and twist it about as you will”, said Lord Justice Lindley, “here is a distinct promise expressed in language which is perfectly unmistakable”.

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