Law is the system of rules a particular country or community recognises as regulating the actions of its members. It is the subject of many scholarly inquiries into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology, and raises difficult issues concerning equality, fairness and justice. The field of Law encompasses a wide range of professional activities including advising clients, defending criminal and civil cases in court, and making decisions and imposing punishments.
The precise definition of law is the object of long-running debate. A broad view sees it as a set of social rules that are enforced by society and its institutions. This includes the state, local communities and families. A more restrictive view restricts it to the activities of government, courts and lawyers. It is a discipline of enormous complexity and dynamism.
Legal systems vary widely between countries, with some maintaining an uncodified civil law tradition and others a common law system. The latter is characterized by a greater flexibility in adapting to new situations and a less formal approach to the writing of legislation and legal judgments. Judicial decisions are recognized as law and the ‘doctrine of precedent’ binds future judges.
Some of the most important areas of law are property, taxation and commercial law. Property law covers land (including rights in rem and rights in possession) and personal property, from movables to intellectual property. It is concerned with mortgages, rentals, licences, covenants and easements. It also deals with statutory systems for registering land. Commercial law covers complex contract law and a variety of specialised fields such as insurance, bills of exchange and insolvency and bankruptcy laws. Its origins date back to the medieval Lex Mercatoria, while contemporary competition law reflects Roman decrees against price fixing and English restraint of trade law.
Other important areas of law include the rights and obligations of individuals. These include rights to privacy, family and correspondence and the right not to be subjected to arbitrary interference with property or honour or reputation. Criminal law covers offences against the community at large and includes the right to asylum. Civil law covers disputes between private parties and between groups such as labour unions.
Other areas of law include regulations on the provision of public services and utilities. These include water, energy and telecommunications laws. These are often influenced by the European law of competition and are intended to prevent businesses from using their market power to distort prices at consumers’ expense. They are supplemented by antitrust law and anti-monopoly statutes. In addition, international law addresses the laws of space and the interaction between nations.