Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It serves many purposes, including establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.
The word “law” comes from the Latin term leges, meaning laws or rules. It can be a written or verbal document that is recognized as binding by a community.
In modern legal systems, law is usually made through a legislative process, through decrees and regulations issued by the executive branch or through precedent, established by judges. In common law jurisdictions, decisions by courts are often explicitly acknowledged as “law” on equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process and with regulations issued by the executive branch.
A variety of disciplines are concerned with the study of law, including legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. These disciplines raise important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness, and justice.
Civil law involves the resolution of lawsuits between individuals and organizations. It covers the law of contract, property, and torts (abuses of property or people).
Criminal law deals with offenses that are harmful to a society or that violate its social order, and involve punishment. The penalty ranges from a fine to imprisonment, or both.
Administrative law focuses on the government’s policies and practices, as well as how laws are made and enforced. It includes areas like public finance, taxation, and regulation of businesses, among others.
Commercial law is a broad area covering contract, property and sales law. It traces back to the medieval Lex Mercatoria and includes the law of agency, insurance and bills of exchange.
Competition law, also known as antitrust law, is an evolving field that traces back to Roman decrees against price fixing and the English restraint of trade doctrine. It is used to prevent businesses from distorting market prices to benefit themselves at the expense of consumers.
Religious law is based on religious precepts, such as the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia and Christian canon law. These are interpreted, through Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent.
Some of these precepts are incorporated in a body of law and jurisprudence known as Sharia and Fiqh, which is mainly contained in the Quran.
There are three main types of laws that are typically made by a government: state-enforced, civil, and international. States are required to make laws that protect the rights of citizens and protect their interests.
State-enforced laws are derived from a written or verbal constitution, and are codified by statutes and regulations. A nation-state may also have a governing body known as a parliament that can make statutes or adopt executive policies and regulations.
The legal system of a country is influenced by its culture and politics. In countries with unstable or authoritarian governments, the rule of law is sometimes in jeopardy.
In nations where the rule of law is respected, people are able to live free and peaceful lives. In those countries where the rule of law is not respected, people may be arrested, convicted, or even killed for violating laws.