The Basics of Law

The Basics of Law

Law is the set of rules that governs people, their activities, and their relationships. In general, laws are made by government and must be followed to protect the people and ensure that justice is served.

The legal system of a nation can serve to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice, and provide for orderly social change. Different systems of law serve these purposes differently and in different ways.

Crime and punishment

Criminal law deals with offenses against the state, which can include such things as murder and theft. The courts can try people who have committed crimes, and can punish them with fines, jail time, or both.


An appeal is a request by one party (the plaintiff) to the court of appeals to decide whether or not a trial was conducted correctly. Appeals can be made for many reasons, including a mishandling of evidence or improper procedures by the lower court.


The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a case, usually based on the geographic area in which the case originated. Concurrent jurisdiction occurs when two courts can have simultaneous responsibility for the same case, allowing a federal court to hear a case that originally was filed in a state court.

Judges and clerks of court

A judge is the chief officer in a court, responsible for administering the trial and deciding cases. A clerk of court is an officer in a trial who helps the judge with administrative tasks, such as maintaining records and preparing documents for trial.


An oath is a promise to tell the truth. It is a requirement in most courts that an attorney must swear to the truth of the facts in a lawsuit before they can be used as evidence. An oath can be given by an attorney, a witness or by the defendant himself.


An objecting party in a trial can challenge a question or statement that the witness has made. This is often done because the lawyer does not agree with the facts or wants to make a point about the truthfulness of the statements.


A formal charge issued by a grand jury stating that there is enough evidence that the defendant committed the crime to justify having a trial; it is used primarily for felonies.

Inculpatory evidence

A piece of evidence that tends to show the defendant’s guilt, such as testimony from a witness or a video recording. Inculpatory evidence may be based on a confession or an alibi.

Inculpatory evidence can also be evidence of an oath or the testimony of an expert witness. Inculpatory evidence is often used in a trial of a high-ranking government official, such as a president or cabinet minister.

Improper procedure

An improperly conducted trial can result in a judge’s decision to throw out the evidence or give a lesser sentence than what was awarded at the trial. In order to avoid this, the defendant or the defense attorney can ask for an appeal.