Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions that regulate behavior. These rules may forbid certain actions, require others and impose penalties in the event that they are broken. They also recognize and protect basic individual rights, such as liberty and equality. Law can be established through a collective legislative process, resulting in statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or by judges through precedent, in common law jurisdictions. Individuals may also create legal contracts. The precise definition of law is a matter of considerable debate.
The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in a multitude of ways. Some examples of the influence of law are the laws of property, contracts, family relationships, sexuality and censorship. The law also defines the borders and relationships between nations and within those nations. It can be a tool for keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, oppressing minorities and promoting social change. Some legal systems are more effective at these goals than others.
For example, a nation with an authoritarian government can keep the peace and maintain the status quo but may oppress minorities and limit freedom of speech and association. A democratic government can promote social change but it is not always able to manage the complexities of an evolving society.
While there are many different types of law, it can be broadly divided into three categories:
Criminal law encompasses the rules that govern a citizen’s right to a fair trial and an impartial jury. Civil law involves the rules that govern a citizen’s private and public rights. This category also includes the rules that govern contract negotiations, insurance disputes and consumer protection.
The law of nature and the law of the universe are a combination of natural laws and laws based on scientific observations and discoveries. The science of physics, biology and other disciplines have produced principles that form the basis for some law.
Other parts of the law are based on religion and culture. Sharia law, for instance, guides the behaviour of Muslim citizens in many countries worldwide. This is in addition to the common law of England and Wales, which is based on a mixture of statutes, legal maxims, case law and common sense.
The legal profession is an area of great interest to those interested in the workings of our society. It offers a variety of careers which involve advising clients about their rights and representing them in court. There is also a growing interest in the study of the history and philosophy of law. However, it is important to remember that any law that has been written down and enforced by a government or other authority will have been heavily influenced by the culture of the time when it was established. This means that the prevailing values will shape how the law is perceived and used in the future.