Law is the set of rules that governs human activity and can be used to punish those who break the rules. Law is also the means by which a society attempts to control its members and regulate its activities. For example, laws can limit freedom of speech and press, restrict the amount of capital a bank must hold, or require car drivers to wear seatbelts. The concept of law has evolved over time, and a number of theories of the nature and origin of law have been proposed.
One of the most famous is that of Roscoe Pound, who argued that the purpose of law is to satisfy social wants. In his view, the law acts as a means of social control by which conflicting pulls of political philosophy, economic interests and ethical values are met. The result is a complex mix that can be seen in the different types of law.
Some types of law are explicitly based on religious precepts, such as Jewish Halakha and Islamic Shari’ah. Christian canon law also survives in some church communities. These sources provide some law, but a thorough legal system requires human elaboration through interpretation, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent.
Most countries have a civil law system based on statutes or codifications passed by the government and on case law. The ancient Roman civil code was extensively adapted to cope with changing social situations, and the system was further developed in medieval Europe.
Another type of law is criminal law, which deals with the punishment for breaking a state’s laws. This area of law is especially complex, as it encompasses a wide range of activities from homicide to fraud. In addition, modern policing techniques and the increasing use of military force have raised concerns about accountability for such activities.
Other areas of law include administrative law, labour law and tax law. Administrative law involves the regulating of businesses by public authorities, and can involve everything from a restaurant’s health inspection ratings to the granting of a visa to someone travelling to work for a foreign company. Labour law regulates the tripartite relationship between employer, employee and trade union and includes issues such as minimum wage and health and safety regulations. Tax law lays down the amounts and methods of taxation, including corporate and income taxes.
Space law is a newer area of the field, dealing with international space law as well as law related to outer space activities such as commercialisation of the moon. It is closely linked to international treaties and is also a subject of academic study.