Law is a system of rules that governs people’s actions, relationships and property. The term can be used to describe the specific laws of a nation, or more generally the principles that underpin legal systems worldwide. The main functions of the law are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights. The legal landscape varies considerably from nation to nation, with most countries relying on a mixture of both civil and common law.
Whether it is a contract, an act of Parliament or a court judgment, laws are designed to control and regulate behavior. The law can cover a wide range of subjects, from the details of taxation to the rights of migrants. There are also different branches of law, with each governing a particular area of life. The most common include criminal law, civil law and property law.
The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people. Traditionally, it has framed debates about religious freedom, gender equality and human rights. The law has been influenced by a number of different philosophical traditions, including utilitarianism and the philosophy of John Locke.
Some countries use a civil law system, where a central authority codifies and consolidates their laws, while others have a common law system where judge-made precedent is binding. There are also a number of religiously inspired legal systems, such as Sharia law which is still widely used in some parts of the world.
A key question about law is who has the power to make and enforce it. This differs between nation-states, with the most powerful people or groups often commanding political and military power. In some nations, the people have revolted against existing laws and sought democratic rule or greater “rights” for citizens.
The study of law is a vast and complex endeavor, involving jurisprudence, sociology and philosophy. There are also specialized fields, such as administrative law, constitutional law and international law.
Law can be broadly classified into three main areas, though they overlap and intertwine. The first area covers the basic rules that apply to all individuals, such as a right to a fair trial and an obligation to tell the truth. The second area covers the rules that apply to particular social groups, such as a tripartite relationship between an employer, trade union and worker or evidence law, which deals with what material can be used in courts for cases. The third area includes the rules of procedure that govern how trials and appeals are conducted. These are the core subjects of law, although it is possible to expand this into virtually every aspect of life.