The word “legal” is usually associated with matters of personal action and tends to have a pejorative connotation. However, the word “legal” is commonly used in everyday language to refer to a range of things that have legal effects. For example, legal writing refers to papers and court cases dealing primarily with issues of private law. A court proceeding may be described as being legal, whereas an act may be described as legal or immoral.
Personal injury refers to injuries, diseases, death and other physical or mental harm inflicted on a person, resulting from the negligence or recklessness of others. This may include the failure to fulfill a duty owed to another person, failing to prevent injury, unreasonable invasion of privacy, abuse of power, etc. Criminal law is the area of criminal legislation that criminalizes such conduct. Persons charged with criminal offenses are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a criminal trial, and the accused’s rights under common law are protected by the Fifth and Sixth amendments to the United States Constitution.
Law refers to both statutory law and civil law, which involve the regulation of individual conduct by government agencies and tribunals. Statutory law consists of laws passed by the legislative body in conjunction with the U.S. constitution. Civil law is the authority of state courts and law enforcement officials acting in behalf of the state. In addition, the U.S. Congress has enacted bills providing for certain rights in cases involving U.S. citizens, such as those related to speech and action.
A pure theory of law is a theoretical concept that assumes that legislation is founded upon some universally understood principles of conduct, and that the courts shall construe the legislation in accordance with those principles. Pure theories of law generally admit various exceptions to the operation of the legislation. For instance, the legislature may adopt a policy concerning the taking of property without just compensation, but the courts are not required to inquire into the constitutionality of that policy. Thus, although the constitutionality of a measure may be an important factor in determining its validity, the ultimate decision of the courts is wholly dependent upon the legislature’s exercise of power.
The constituents of a legal system are known as Constitutions. A constitution, drafted by the legislative body, spells out the basic principles governing the formulation of laws. The framers of the constitution intended the constitution to be reflective of the general character of the nation and to guarantee certain rights against the executive and the legislature. A constitution thus governs the development of the legal system in a country. The constitution has the status of a universal legal rule, applicable to all independent political entities in the country, whether local or national.
A number of other institutional features are also found in legal systems. The litigation system, for example, involves an adversarial legal system in which defendants usually pursue their legal rights through the process of juries. The legal profession, including the bar, is an institution associated with adversarial processes in which lawyers defend clients who have been accused of legally questionable acts. And finally, the fourth component, privilege, protects confidential communications between attorneys and their clients.