Friday, 17 February 2012
What kind of Law?
A "law" is any rule which the Courts will enforce. In both the UK and US the two major forms are legislation and case law. Legislation is made by the legislative branch (Parliament or Congress). In Britain we use the terms "Act of Parliament" and "Statute" interchangeably. Case law arises from decisions of the courts. Both the US and UK have (not exclusively - Scotland and Louisiana have civil law roots) common Law systems - where the doctrine of precedent is both central and a key aspect of legal argument.
Law can itself be classified in a number of ways - but beware of the same words meaning very different things in different contexts. For example the term "Common Law" can mean
(1) the law of the entire land, as opposed to local law
(2) court made law, contrasted with statute law
(3) the system which puts precedent at the heart, in contrast with the civil law systems of continental Europe - where cases, though an aid to understanding what the law is, is not crucial to legal argument as it is in Common Law systems.
Civil Law too has meanings which change with context
(1) contrasted with Common Law - as a legal system
(2) contrasted with criminal law (being about relationships between individuals, and the provision of remedies rather than sanctions)