Law is a systematic system of rules developed and enforced by governmental or social institutions to control behavior, with the precise definition a point of long-standing debate. It is commonly defined as an abstract form of justice concerned with resolving disputes between individuals, organizations, and other entities. A law institution may be either independent (judicial) or governmental. The major types of law are civil law (cases resolved in courts) and criminal law (cases resolved by juries).

Civil law is the body of law dealing with disputes between individuals and organizations. There are two distinct types of civil law: Regular Law and Admiralty Law. Admiralty Law is maritime law that includes captures by mistake or injury of a ship or its crew. Regular Law is the body of law that establishes the rules of civil actions at common law. For example, the law governs property disputes, bankruptcy, contract enforcement, tax matters, corporate law, and family law.

Jurisprudence, as defined by English Common law, is “the court of justice derived from and exercised in common law jurisdictions.” In English Common law jurisdiction, there was no need for a jury. There were no capital crimes, no process serving required, and no right to trial by peers. All cases were tried before judges and juries.

The theory of Pure Legislation states that the legislature defines the laws and no other independent bodies or tribunals are allowed to modify or interpret these laws. Pure Legislation is considered by many legal scholars to be one of the important characteristics of judicial litigation. The concept of Pure Legislation is also the source of much of the legitimacy surrounding the courts. The courts, relying on Pure Legislation as their sole source of law definition, are seen by some legal professionals and philosophers as being capable of resolving virtually any legal issue or argument.

The courts generally interpreted the laws passed by their governing bodies as defining the parameters within which laws should be enforced. Within this framework, each body or agency was recognized as having authority over a limited set of legislative acts. Each legislature could delegate its authority to another agency but the jurisdiction was restricted to those acts authorized in the law. Furthermore, the courts were not allowed to exercise restraint on the enacting of legislative action since the constitution of each state delegated the power to the courts only to the extent permitted by the constitution. This principle of limitations has been used in criminal law ever since the seventeenth century.

Criminal law is primarily enforced against individuals rather than corporations or the government. Unlike civil law, criminal law does not have a standing jury. Criminal laws are defined by legislation passed by the legislature imposing criminal penalties on individuals who violate these laws. Criminal laws generally control conduct by individual states and the federal government. Where the state laws conflict with federal law, the federal law is preempted, which precludes the enforcement of the criminal laws in the state.


By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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