Law is a term lacking a universally accepted definition.
The Romans had several terms that modern English often translates into the single term, law. Unlike many of the terms used in the legal system of the United States, the word “law” does not come from the Latin, but from the Anglo-Saxon word lagu and the Middle English lawe, laghe meaning “just, right and fair.”
In Latin, “law” would be translated jus (juris), from which we take the word “justice.” The Romans had another word, lex (legis), from which we get the word “legal,” meaning “statute, bill, principle, rule, contract, condition…” What is legal (connected by contract) becomes lawful (just) by consent.
A legal system based upon freedom has no lawful power to “command” until an individual binds himself to it “for lex (law) is derived from ligare (to bind), because it binds one to act.”
While, “The law (jus) is the rule of right; and whatever is contrary to the rule of right is an injury,” we find that “human laws (lex, leges) are born, live, and die.” “That which bars those who have contracted will bar their successors also.” Therefore, “The contract makes the law” for our children, as well as for ourselves.
Law may also refer to a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern or guide behaviour of members or strangers within society.
Laws can be made by legislatures through legislation (resulting in statutes), the executive through decrees and regulations, or judges or juries through binding precedents. Such legislators or executive or even judicial authority would have to be granted that power to make law by the consent of the people. There are no inherent rights in governments until they are placed there lawfully by the people.
Jonathon Swift once said “All government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery!”
There are many ways in which people may give their consent in the granting to others the power to make law or what appears to be law in the form of regulations.
Private individuals can create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that exclude the normal court process.
The formation of laws themselves may be limited by the influence of a constitution (written or unwritten) and the rights of government and even of the people may be encoded therein. The law shapes politics, economics, and society in various ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people but also politics, economics, and society may shape the law or at least the legal systems.
A general distinction can be made between civil law jurisdictions (including canon and socialist law), in which the legislature or other central body codifies and consolidates their laws, and common law systems, where judge and juries may make binding precedent to establish customs.
Historically, religious laws and customs have been a significant factor in the forming of secular matters. This is because man is endowed by his creator with rights and Natural Law is assumed to be the right reason in realizing those rights.
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 deals with the resolution of disputes between individuals or organizations by a legal remedy provided the winning litigant. This civil law should not to be confused with civil law jurisdictions previously mentioned.
Civil law may include specialties such as:
- 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 is 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.
- Summa Theologica 1st of 2nd Part Treaties on Law Ques. 90 of the Essence of Law. Thomas Aquinas.
- Jus est norma recti; et quicquid est contra normam recti est injuria. 3 Bulstr.313.
- Leges humanæ nascuntur, vivuntet moriuntur.
- Quod ipsis, qui cotraxerunt, abstat; et successoribus eorum obstabit. Di.50.17.29.
- Legem enim contractus dat. 22 Wend. N.Y. 215,223.
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