ETYM Old Eng. lawe, laghe, AS. lagu, from the root of Eng. lie: akin to OS. lag, Icel. lög, Swed. lag, Dan. lov.
Body of rules and principles under which justice is administered or order enforced in a state or nation. In western Europe there are two main systems: Roman law and English law. US law is a modified form of English law.
Roman law legal system of ancient Rome that is now the basis of civil law, one of the main European legal systems.
It originated under the republic, was developed under the empire, and continued in use in the Byzantine empire until 1453. First codified in 450 BC and finalized under Justinian AD 528–534, it advanced to a system of international law (jus gentium), applied in disputes between Romans and foreigners or provincials, or between provincials of different states. Church influence led to the adoption of Roman law throughout western continental Europe, and it was spread to E Europe and parts of Asia by the French Code Napoléon in the 19th century. Scotland and Québec (because of their French links) and South Africa (because of its link with Holland) also have it as the basis of their legal systems.
English law derives from Anglo-Saxon customs, which were too entrenched to be broken by the Norman Conquest and still form the basis of the common law, which by 1250 had been systematized by the royal judges. Unique to English law is the doctrine of stare decisis (Latin “to stand by things decided”), which requires that courts abide by former precedents (or decisions) when the same points arise again in litigation.
These two concepts are the basis for US law.
The main differences between the British legal system, called the adversarial or accusatorial system, and the system of some European countries (eg. France), called the inquisitorial system, are that in the adversarial system the judge acts as an impartial umpire; prosecution and defense each put their case; and the jury decides. In the inquisitorial system the inquiry into the facts is conducted by the judge, who also examines the evidence and interrogates witnesses.
A disadvantage of the accusatorial system is that juries have to decide on the evidence put in court, which may be limited by rules of evidence. The same evidence would not be hidden under the inquisitorial system, where all evidence must be put forward. But the inquisitorial system does not allow for cross-examination of witnesses, and gives the examining magistrate potentially oppressive powers. Pleas of guilty are also not allowed.
1. A generalization based on recurring facts or events (in science or mathematics etc).
2. A rule or body of rules of conduct inherent in human nature and essential to or binding upon human society; SYN. natural law.
3. One of a set of rules governing a particular activity or a legal document setting forth such a rule.
4. The collection of rules imposed by authority; SYN. jurisprudence.
5. The learned profession that is mastered by graduate study in a law school and that is responsible for the judicial system; SYN. practice of law.