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Introduction to Law: Welcome

Legal References

Introduction to Law

Court of Mongol Ruler ( pehaps Genghiz Khan) Illustration from a 15th century Jami' al-tawarikh manuscript


Legal inquiry

Legal inquiry allows us to better understand how the world is organized in a legal sense. On a practical level, sovereign states each have their own legal system, their own rules.States cooperate with one another through treaties addressing a range of issues from trade and transport to rules of contract interpretation. Today, much of this is available online, meaning we can have access to the rules.

On a theoretical level, underlying the different legal systems are different philosophies of sovereignty and the role law plays in the society.One of those basic concepts is the “rule of law”, a concept often attributed to the British scholar A.V. Dicey, but in fact was first instituted by the great Genghis Kahn when he decreed that his laws applied to everyone equally and, contrary to custom at that time, not even he nor his family was above the law.In his great realm was practiced such forward-thinking precepts as universal religious tolerance and gender equality. Unfortunately, his successors did not continue his examples.Resources on legal theory are also now readily available online.

Why inquire about law if you do not plan to be a lawyer?  Indeed, some view law and lawyers as obstacles.  Famously, Shakespeare attributed to Dick the Butcher in Henry VI, Part II, act IV, Scene II, the statement, ''The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers'.' In context, however, this was in response to the rebel Jack Cade’s spoken desire to become king by any means – in disregard of the law. He wants to rule as The Law, that the “good people . . .worship me their lord”.  It is in response to this, that Dick the Butcher observes that, to subvert the law and rule over the people as lord, ''The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers''.  To which Jack Cade responds: “. . . that I mean to do”. 

The point being that fair rules are the protector and the predictor.  When observed, they maintain a stable society, which in turn brings a stable economy.  The library resources make these rules available.

Legal research

Legal research can be into a number of categories of law.  The following are some of the most obvious categories. 

Primary sources versus secondary sources.  Primary sources are statutory law (and other original sources under state law) and treaty law.  For example, in Central Asia primary law consists of the constitutions and the statutory laws of each individual Central Asian state.  These are often available online from an official government source, such as the state’s Justice Ministry.  Secondary sources consist of scholarly articles that discuss the law. These are most commonly available in law journals published by law schools and legal organizations.

State law versus treaty law.  State law is the domestic law of an individual country.  Treaty law consists of the treaties (including conventions) that states enter into with one another.  Treaties are agreements between or among states and form a source of primary law.

Public law versus private law.  Public law is the law that involves the state, such as administrative law or criminal law.  Public law also can be international in that some treaties directly involve the state, such as the treaty establishing the World Trade Organization.  Private law is the law affecting private legal relationships, such as contracts among private parties.  Treaties can address these relationships also, such as the United Nation Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods.

Substantive law versus procedural law.  Substantive law is the law that sets forth rights and obligations.  Procedural law is the law that tells one how to pursue those rights and obligations, such as how to pursue a right in court.  Once the proper procedure is followed, the court applies the substantive law to resolve the legal issues before it.