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Rule

rules law courts court

To command or require pursuant to a principle of the court, as to rule the sheriff to serve the summons.

To settle or decide a point of law at a trial or hearing.

An established standard, guide, or regulation governing conduct, procedure, or action.

The word rule has a wide range of meanings in the law, as in ordinary English. As a verb, it most commonly refers to the action of a court of law in settling a legal question. When a court rules, the decision is called a ruling. As a noun, rule generally refers to either settled principles of SUBSTANTIVE LAW or procedural regulations used by courts to administer justice.

One of the most basic concepts in the Anglo-American legal tradition is called the rule of law. The RULE OF LAW refers to a set of rules and procedures governing human and institutional behavior that are autonomous and possess their own logic. These rules are fundamental to society and provide the guides for all other rules that regulate behavior. The rule of law argues for the legitimacy of the legal system by claiming that all persons will be judged by a neutral and impartial authority and that no one will receive special treatment. The concept of DUE PROCESS OF LAW is an important component of the rule of law.

Courts and legislatures produce substantive law in all areas of human behavior and social arrangement. Over time certain guiding principles emerge that rise to the level of a rule. When this happens, it usually means that the courts have firmly established a standard for assessing an issue. The source of a rule may be a previous set of court decisions or a legislative act that clearly sets out how the law is to be interpreted. Substantive rules help guide attorneys in giving advice to clients. For example, the RULE AGAINST PERPETUITIES governs the way in which property may be given. Knowing this rule, a lawyer can draft a legal document that will not violate the rule.

Courts of law have many procedural rules that determine how the judicial system will handle disputes. Courts have the authority, either by legislative act or by their own inherent power, to promulgate (issue) rules of procedure. State and federal courts have rules of criminal and CIVIL PROCEDURE that set out in great detail the requirements of every party to a criminal or civil proceeding. RULES OF EVIDENCE provide guidelines for what a court may properly allow into evidence at a trial.

Courts promulgate rules of professional conduct that govern the ethical behavior of attorneys. Other rules specify how many hours of CONTINUING LEGAL EDUCATION an attorney must attend to remain in good standing. Courts also issue rules on technology. For example, the highest court in a jurisdiction usually decides whether television cameras will be allowed in a courtroom and issues a rule to that effect.

There are also rules of interpretation that guide courts in making their rulings. For example, the plain-meaning rule is a general principle of statutory interpretation. If the meaning of the words in a writing (such as a statute, contract, or will) is clear, other evidence is inadmissible to change the meaning. The interpretation of criminal statutes is guided by the rule of lenity. A court will decline to interpret a CRIMINAL LAW so as to increase the penalty, unless it has clear evidence of legislative intent to do otherwise.

Since the 1930s the growth in the number of government administrative agencies with rule-making authority has led to thousands of rules and regulations. The Federal Register is an official U.S. government publication that regularly prints proposed and final rules and regulations of government agencies. The INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, for example, issues administrative rulings that interpret the INTERNAL REVENUE CODE.

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