An Overview of Law
The first written evidence of official law was found to belong to the Sumerians, in approximately 2100-2050 BC. The Babylonians are also known to have established a legal system based on the Code Hammurabi.
In Europe, Roman law formed the first real and complex legal system. Modern legal practices and theories have been influenced heavily by Roman teachings, which in turn were based upon Greek ideas. However, in the Roman system of law, laypeople (iudex) were chosen as judges, and case law did not exist.
Under the Emperor Justinian, the Roman legal system was overhauled, organised and compiled. The fundamental works produced by this are referred to as the Corpus Juris Civilis, and were an attempt by Justinian to revive the golden era of Roman law.
During the Dark Ages, Roman law was forgotten; however, in the 1200s legal scholars all over Europe began to research Roman law after the legal texts were discovered by researchers at the University of Bologna. Thus Roman law began to form a basis for European modern law. The Norman invasion of England brought some Islamic and Norman ideas to England, from which the common law developed. Henry the II established a professional body of judges, and held trials adjudicated by juries. Prior to this, many disputes had been settled using trials by combat, a judicially sanctioned duel whereby the single survivor was deemed to be in the right.
What is modern law based upon?
There are two main branches to the background of modern law in Europe, the first being the traditional English case law, and the second being the codified systems of the continent. Nowadays, common and civil law are beginning to merge in Europe, with European Union codified law developing from the case law based European Court of Justice.
What are the different types of law?
Law can broadly be divided into two branches; civil and criminal law. Besides this there are a myriad of other sectors, but civil and criminal law are universally accepted to be the two halves of law.
Criminal Law is normally enforced by the government of a country. Acts judged as criminal may wildly differ between different countries, but in essence, criminal law prohibits acts which may threaten public safety and welfare. Often punishment for these crimes is severe, and is uniquely applied to each case.
For some crimes, there are several elements that must occur coincidentally in order for the defendant to be convicted as guilty of a crime. The first is ‘actus reus’, or a guilty act. This can either by an action, the threat of an action, or even neglecting to act (although in order for this to be considered an actus reus, a duty must exist, either through a contract, a voluntary agreement, or just being a blood relative).
The second element is mens rea, or guilty mind; this refers to the defendant’s intent to have caused harm or to carry out the actus reus. Mens rea is commonly the deciding element between murder and manslaughter.
There are five objectives to punishing criminals for criminal offences. The first is retribution; that the criminal should also suffer for the harm they may have caused in their offence. The second is deterrence; the idea that punishment for the crime will deter the criminal and other individuals from either repeating the crime, or carrying it out in the first place. The third is incapacitation; the criminal is removed from society to protect the population from their wrongdoing. The fourth is rehabilitation; to re-educate the individual in behaviour in society to try to prevent further offences. The final objective is restitution. This aims to repair the harm caused to the victim of the crime; a fraudster for example will be required to repay any stolen money.
Civil law is, in contrast to criminal law, normally enforced by private organisations. Usually in civil law, financial compensation is awarded to the victim of the dispute.
The objectives of civil law tend to be to ensure that an agreement is honoured, to settle any disputes, or to correct a wrong.
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