Private law deals with legal disputes between individuals and/or organisations in areas such as contracts, property, torts/delicts and commercial law. This distinction is stronger in civil law countries, particularly those with a separate system of administrative courts; by contrast, the public-private law divide is less pronounced in common law jurisdictions. Law is a set of rules that are created and are enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior, with its precise definition a matter of longstanding debate. State-enforced laws can be made by a group legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or established by judges through precedent, usually in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals may create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that adopt alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation.
- For a description of legal training and a general background, see legal profession, legal education, and legal ethics.
- This is a 16th-century painting of such a notary by Flemish painter Quentin Massys.
- The Law Merchant, a precursor to modern commercial law, emphasised the freedom to contract and alienability of property.
- Checks will be processed more quickly, thanks to a federal law allowing banks to use electronic images of checks.
As a legal system, Roman law has affected the development of law worldwide. It also forms the basis for the law codes of most countries of continental Europe and has played an important role in the creation of the idea of a common European culture (Stein, Roman Law in European History, 2, 104–107). Space law is a relatively new field dealing with aspects of international law regarding human activities in Earth orbit and outer space. While at first addressing space relations of countries via treaties, increasingly it is addressing areas such as space commercialisation, property, liability, and other issues. Intellectual property law aims at safeguarding creators and other producers of intellectual goods and services.
A better known tort is defamation, which occurs, for example, when a newspaper makes unsupportable allegations that damage a politician’s reputation. More infamous are economic torts, which form the basis of labour law in some countries by making trade unions liable for strikes, when statute does not provide immunity. In exceptional circumstances defences can apply to specific acts, such as killing in self defence, or pleading insanity. Another example is in the 19th-century English case of R v Dudley and Stephens, which tested a defence of “necessity”. Three crew members and Richard Parker, a 17-year-old cabin boy, were stranded on a raft. They argued it was necessary to kill the cabin boy to preserve their own lives.
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Over time, courts of equity developed solid principles, especially under Lord Eldon. In the 19th century in England, and in 1937 in the U.S., the two systems were merged. Ancient Egyptian law, dating as far back as 3000 BC, was based on the concept of Ma’at and characterised by tradition, rhetorical speech, social equality and impartiality.
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Land law forms the basis for most kinds of property law, and is the most complex. It concerns mortgages, rental agreements, licences, covenants, easements and the statutory systems for land registration. Regulations on the use of personal property fall under intellectual property, company law, trusts and commercial law. The goldsmith’s apprentice looked at it, sneakily removed the stones, told the boy it was worth three halfpence and that he would buy it.