The term law is broadly used to refer to a wide variety of social rules and policies that regulate behavior. It is also often used to describe the system of laws that govern a particular country or region.
A key feature of law is that it provides clear rules about what is permissible and what is forbidden. In addition, it typically provides a mechanism for resolving disputes and providing accountability. It is the responsibility of all citizens to abide by the laws of their country. Those who do not obey the law may be punished under the jurisdiction of the relevant authorities.
Most countries today have legal systems that are based on common law and civil law traditions. Both are forms of law, but the main difference is that in common law legal systems, decisions made by a court become precedents and shape future rulings until they are overturned. This is known as the principle of stare decisis.
In contrast, the civil law tradition is based on a comprehensive system of laws standardized into codes that are easily accessible to the citizenry and jurists. It is based on a taxonomy of concepts and categories developed from Roman law, supplemented by local custom and culture, and modified over time. Civil law systems can be found on all continents, covering about 60% of the world’s population.
A significant area of the law is commercial law, which covers complex contract law and property laws. It includes such fields as the law of trusts, the law of partnerships, the law of corporations, the law of the European Communities, and the law of bankruptcy. Other important areas of commercial law include insurance law, bills of exchange, insolvency law, and the law of sales.
Regulatory law covers such areas as environmental and labor standards, safety laws, tax laws, banking regulations, and financial regulations. Another important area of regulation is space law, which addresses international law regarding human activities in outer space and in Earth orbit.
The political landscape differs dramatically from nation to nation, but all nations need to be governed by law in order to function effectively. There are four principal functions of the law: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. It is important for governments to be able to serve these purposes, but it is equally important for citizens to recognize the limits on the power of any government and to seek alternatives when necessary. The most effective means of achieving this goal is to promote a democracy in which people have the right to change the political and legal structures that rule their lives.