Law is a systematic system of laws designed and enforced by governmental or communal institutions to govern behavior, with the precise definition normally a matter of public debate. In common usage, it is usually understood as the art and science of civil law. Civil law includes criminal law, but also civil procedure such as divorce, family law, adoption, property settlement and even family-related crime such as spousal abuse and child abuse. The courts decide cases in accordance with the law, taking into account both the parties’ interests, and are supposed to apply rules of evidence, and be guided by precedent law.
As for its applicability in modern times, we generally consider civil and criminal law to be two distinct branches of the same system, arising from different sources. But this is not so. For instance, both criminal and civil law derive from common law, which itself is derived from pre-eminently English common law. There are differences between civil and criminal law, but the ultimate disposition of the law is always governed by the same considerations that guide civil proceedings. Civil law courts are open to the public and have public interest as their basis for judgments. Criminal law courts are closed to the public and the responsibility for conducting criminal proceedings is reserved to a private institution usually representing the interests of one section of society, the wealthy, powerful and/or influential.
Unlike the legal system, which is organized around the interests of a particular class of citizens, civil and criminal law is organized around the needs of all citizens. As such, there is a greater likelihood of violations of human rights. Additionally, because of the unique nature of the legal system, those who are disadvantaged most by the legal system are usually those least able to affect the system. Because the system is based on the equal protection of all citizens, there are no upper limits to how much the criminal law can be enforced against those who are guilty.
The goal of the legislative branch in ensuring that all citizens have access to quality legal services is to promote social justice and economic growth through the formulation and enforcement of laws and rules that address problems that affect the bulk of citizens. Legislation is always influenced by what the public wants and needs at any given time. Criminal laws, for example, have been created to address things like juvenile delinquency, capital punishment and drug offenses. These laws also reflect the opinions of many other individuals, other than the lawyers that wrote the legislation. For instance, drunk driving laws were passed in an effort to reduce automobile accidents and the resulting deaths. Laws against assault and battery have been in place for decades as an attempt to reduce interpersonal violence.
In addition to the United Kingdom’s unique legal system, other nations have developed their own common law legal systems. The most prominent among these are Canada, Australia and New Zealand. While the differences between the legal systems are wide-ranging, many of the issues that arise in a typical civil court will also be found in the courts of each of these countries.
Commonly referred to as shariah law, Islamic law or civil law, Islamic law is commonly practiced in areas outside of the United Kingdom, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Some of the elements of this type of law include: Family and marriage laws; Land and property laws; Civil law including crime, injury and personal injury; Family and marriage laws; and Commercial law such as corporate affairs, licensing and intellectual property protection. The European Court of Justice, the highest court in the European Union, can be considered the apex of the Common law system.
Unlike the American legal system, the systems of the seven common law jurisdictions are not derived from the same document, The Magna Carta. Rather, the jurisdictions derive their common law Jurisprudence from the Charter of England, which grants broad powers to the lower courts and the legislature. As such, the jurisdictions share some common features but differ in specific areas such as: the judicial power, which reside with the lower courts and is not derived from the Magna Carta; substantive and procedural law, which are decided in the same way in all courts, but may be based on statutory instruments such as the Scotland devolution and English statute law; and privileges and immunities, which vary from one jurisdiction to the next.
One final difference between the courts of the seven common law jurisdictions and the modern administrative law system is that, in the administrative law system, there are usually two levels of courts, federal and state. Because the framers of the Charter did not anticipate any differences among the courts, administrative law proceeding typically uses federal courts. This is an important feature because, if anything, the power to judge criminal behavior rests with federal courts and it would create a huge problem for a person accused of criminal activity in one state to be tried in another state for the same conduct. The concern of this problem led to the adoption of “judicial process” in the American Constitution, which has its own set of principles and procedures requiring separate courts for the different types of cases. The separation of powers is also documented in the Treatise ofutions of 1787, which again called for separate courts for the different types of cases. The separation of powers is not as pronounced in administrative law as it is in civil law, perhaps because the administrative actions of the government are so subtle and so diffuse.