A legal system is the set of rules that governs how people interact with each other. These rules may vary from nation to nation and from time to time.
The various philosophies of law–schools of legal thought–have their own unique view of how the legal system should work. Each aims to serve certain aims, such as protecting people from oppression or providing justice for the disadvantaged.
Judges make decisions about a variety of matters that arise in the courts. These may involve civil suits, criminal cases and family law matters.
Judges are professionals who have received legal training and have the ability to render impartial decisions. They are the primary decision-makers in a court system and their decisions can have dramatic consequences for people.
In common-law countries, judges enter the judicial service after completion of a law school and pass an examination. They are appointed or elected to office and may be placed at different levels of the judiciary depending on their level of qualifications.
Although they have considerable power to change laws and rules, judges are insulated from public passions and cannot be removed by political means (such as impeachment). They serve no fixed term; they are reappointed or reelected only until death, retirement or conviction in the Senate.
Among the most important responsibilities of trial courts are disposal of litigation, defining and interpreting State law, imposing limits on legislative and executive power, and enforcing limitations on personal autonomy. They also interpret and enforce a nation’s Constitution, treaties and international law.
These tasks require substantial and detailed knowledge of the law; they also call for great patience, sensitivity and understanding. They deal with difficult questions of the nature and extent of liability and punishment, and they have the power to overturn laws that are unconstitutional or in conflict with a higher norm.
The role of judges is shaped by the history of their country and by social attitudes. In England, for example, part-time lay judges greatly outnumber professional judges at the lowest trial levels.
In the United States, the appointment of judges is primarily made by the chief executive of the country, though partisan considerations and ideological differences can play an important role in this process. Nevertheless, they are subject to strict oversight by the courts and must meet high standards of judicial independence.
Moreover, they must be independent of governmental influence and must act in a manner that promotes public confidence in their integrity and impartiality. They should avoid any association or relationship that could be construed to give them an advantage in the exercise of their judicial duties, and they should not lend their prestige to advance the interests of other parties or permit them to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence their judgments.
Juries are a critical part of the legal system, particularly for criminal cases. They make sure that everyone gets a fair trial and can’t be unduly influenced by public opinion or political motives.
The law may vary from country to country, but there are three main types of legal systems that use juries: common law, civil law and religious law. Countries like the United States and Canada often use jury trials for both criminal and civil cases.
In a jury trial, a panel of 12 people decides whether a defendant is guilty or not. If there is a tie, the judge can choose to transfer the decision to professional judges.
During the trial, the prosecutor and defence attorney present their case against the accused. Each juror is expected to consider all the evidence presented by both sides and make a judgement as to whether they think the defendant is guilty of the crime he or she is accused of.
After the trial, the jury meets together in a separate room to discuss the case. The jury may ask questions to each other about the case, or they might vote in secret ballots to come up with a verdict.
Once the deliberation period is over, each juror will give their verdict to the court, which will then record it. The jury must give the verdict based on the evidence and instructions given by the court in the case.
The jury must also follow the oath they take when they serve on the jury. The oath tells them that they will reach their decisions based on the evidence and instructions given by court in each case.
In some states, jurors can be excused from serving on a particular trial for various reasons. These are called ‘challenges’ and must be authorised by the judge and the lawyers.
These challenges can be for cause or peremptory. Challenges for cause can be unlimited, while peremptory challenges can be limited to 10 in criminal cases and 6 in civil ones.
While there are many benefits to having a jury trial, some critics say that juries can be biased. They may be influenced by the press or public opinion, making it difficult to reach a fair verdict.
Courts of Appeal
After a trial in a trial court, a person can file an appeal. An appeal is a legal document that describes why the trial court made a wrong decision or why the case should be overturned on some other grounds.
Appellate courts review the record of a trial and make decisions based on what is written in the court records. They do not receive additional evidence or hear witnesses. Generally, they do not overturn a trial outcome unless it is “clearly erroneous” on some legal basis.
When a person appeals a court decision, he or she is known as an “appellant.” An appellant must show that the trial court made a legal mistake that affected the case and must be able to demonstrate that it was significant enough to require some form of relief (reversal, modification, or a new trial). In most states, parties are entitled to one appeal per trial.
An appellant must also prove that the law was applied incorrectly in the trial court or administrative agency. An appeal usually focuses on the application of the law, but in some cases, an appellant may challenge the factual findings of the trial court or administrative agency as well.
The appeals process is usually fairly lengthy. The first step in an appeal is filing a brief with the court, explaining why the trial court made the wrong decision. The second step is oral argument, in which the lawyers argue their case before the judges.
Appeals courts are usually divided into “circuits” and are governed by specific laws. In the United States, for example, there are 12 federal circuits that determine jurisdiction over different areas of law. The Fifth Circuit, for example, is headquartered in New Orleans and has jurisdiction over matters of the federal government including patents, military cases, and veterans claims.
Appeals are usually heard by a panel of three judges. In addition, attorneys who are appealing can sometimes file “briefs,” which present their arguments on why the trial court’s decision should be reversed or affirmed. During oral argument, the judge may ask questions or call on the attorneys to answer them.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest tribunal in the United States for all cases and controversies in which the Constitution or laws of the United States are involved. Its primary responsibility is to ensure that the American people receive equal justice under law, and it functions as a guardian and interpreter of the Constitution.
The court consists of nine justices (the chief and eight associate), who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate for life terms. The number of justices has fluctuated from six in the 18th century to seven in 1801, and finally to nine in 1869.
Each justice takes an oath to act “in accordance with the law” and to uphold the Constitution of the United States. The oath of office also includes the statement that they “will do right to all manner of people according to law without fear or favor, affection or ill will.”
In order to decide a case, the court holds two major judgments: the first determines the merits of the case; the second establishes who will author the official written decision. Traditionally, the court’s chief justice selects which of the associate justices will write the decision, though the senior member of the majority will be chosen if the chief is in the minority.
Although the Supreme Court does not have original jurisdiction in many cases, it has appellate authority to hear most matters involving constitutional and federal issues, including suits between two or more states; suits affecting ambassadors and other public ministers; controversies with states; and cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, such as cases involving ships on the high seas and navigable waterways. Requests for certiorari (Latin: “to ask”) to review lower-court decisions are circulated among the court’s nine justices, who must agree to hear the case before a decision is made.
The Supreme Court also has direct appellate jurisdiction over writs of habeas corpus, disputed cases involving water rights, summary proceedings under the Election Code, and prosecution appeals involving search and seizure questions in pending criminal proceedings. In addition, it is the sole appellate body with the power to promulgate rules governing procedure in civil and criminal proceedings.