law Definition, Systems, Institutions, & Fields

The main institutions of law in industrialised countries are independent courts, representative parliaments, an accountable executive, the military and police, bureaucratic organisation, the legal profession and civil society itself. John Locke, in his Two Treatises of Government, and Baron de Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws, advocated for a separation of powers between the political, legislature and executive bodies. Their principle was that no person should be able to usurp all powers of the state, in contrast to the absolutist theory of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. Sun Yat-sen’s Five Power Constitution for the Republic of China took the separation of powers further by having two additional branches of government—a Control Yuan for auditing oversight and an Examination Yuan to manage the employment of public officials. In general, legal systems can be split between civil law and common law systems.

Negative perceptions of “red tape” aside, public services such as schooling, health care, policing or public transport are considered a crucial state function making public bureaucratic action the locus of government power. While military organisations have existed as long as government itself, the idea of a standing police force is a relatively modern concept. For example, Medieval England’s system of travelling criminal courts, or assizes, used show trials and public executions to instill communities with fear to maintain control.

  • Because popular elections appoint political parties to govern, the leader of a party can change in between elections.
  • Unlike criminal matters and the policing of trades and markets, religious courts had no executive powers in matters of family law.
  • Since the mid-1940s, efforts have been made, in country after country, to bring Sharia law more into line with modern conditions and conceptions.
  • In modern times, the legal systems of many Muslim countries draw upon both civil and common law traditions as well as Islamic law and custom.
  • In France, an ordinary contract is said to form simply on the basis of a “meeting of the minds” or a “concurrence of wills”.
  • In common law systems, judges may make binding case law through precedent, although on occasion this may be overturned by a higher court or the legislature.

Given the trend of increasing global economic integration, many regional agreements—especially the African Union—seek to follow a similar model. In the EU, sovereign nations have gathered their authority in a system of courts and the European Parliament. 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. As the European Court of Justice noted in its 1963 Van Gend en Loos decision, European Union law constitutes “a new legal order of international law” for the mutual social and economic benefit of the member states. Common law originated from England and has been inherited by almost every country once tied to the British Empire (except Malta, Scotland, the U.S. state of Louisiana, and the Canadian province of Quebec).

European Union

October 26, 2022 • The U.S. Postal Service cites the late Supreme Court justice’s legacy of “important majority opinions advancing equality and strong dissents on socially controversial rulings.” October 28, 2022 • More than state legislative seats 6,000 seats are up for election this year. Republicans and Democrats are spending tens of millions in a battle to shift the balance of power in these chambers.

The term “civil Law News“, referring to the civilian legal system originating in continental Europe, should not be confused with “civil law” in the sense of the common law topics distinct from criminal law and public law. Legal systems vary between jurisdictions, with their differences analysed in comparative law. In civil law jurisdictions, a legislature or other central body codifies and consolidates the law. In common law systems, judges may make binding case law through precedent, although on occasion this may be overturned by a higher court or the legislature. Historically, religious law has influenced secular matters and is, as of the 21st century, still in use in some religious communities. Sharia law based on Islamic principles is used as the primary legal system in several countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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This contains the basic code of Jewish law, which some Israeli communities choose to use. The Halakha is a code of Jewish law that summarizes some of the Talmud’s interpretations. Nevertheless, Israeli law allows litigants to use religious laws only if they choose. Canon law is only in use by members of the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion.

Unlike criminal matters and the policing of trades and markets, religious courts had no executive powers in matters of family law. Banking law and financial regulation set minimum standards on the amounts of capital banks must hold, and rules about best practice for investment. This is to insure against the risk of economic crises, such as the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Space law is a relatively new field dealing with aspects of international law regarding human activities in Earth orbit and outer space.

Britannica is the ultimate student resource for key school subjects like history, government, literature, and more. 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 Archived 20 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine. 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). Law and commerceCompany law sprang from the law of trusts, on the principle of separating ownership of property and control.

Today Taiwanese law retains the closest affinity to the codifications from that period, because of the split between Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists, who fled there, and Mao Zedong’s communists who won control of the mainland in 1949. The current legal infrastructure in the People’s Republic of China was heavily influenced by Soviet Socialist law, which essentially inflates administrative law at the expense of private law rights. Due to rapid industrialisation, today China is undergoing a process of reform, at least in terms of economic, if not social and political, rights. A new contract code in 1999 represented a move away from administrative domination.