Law is the set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It is a discipline that is a source of scholarly inquiry in legal history, philosophy, economics, sociology and social justice. Laws may be enacted by legislative bodies, resulting in statutes, or established through judicial precedent, as in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts and establish laws through custom and policy. Laws shape politics, economics and history in various ways and serve as mediators of relations between people.
The precise definition of law has been a subject of debate and controversy. The most commonly accepted definition is: “a system of rules that are created and enforced by a controlling authority to govern or regulate conduct.” However, the precise nature of law is highly dependent upon the context in which it is used. For example, a law may be interpreted to mean anything from a traffic rule to a criminal statute.
The law shapes political, economic and historical events in a variety of ways, ranging from its role as a mediator between individuals to its influence on society’s values and the way it perceives reality. The laws of a nation can either keep the peace and maintain the status quo, protect minority rights against the will of majorities or provide for the orderly and controlled process of social change. In each case, the specific purpose of a country’s laws depends on its social structure, culture and history.
Some countries, such as the United States, employ a civil law system in which their laws are derived from judicial decisions. In other countries, such as Japan, they follow a common law system that is based on codified statutes. These different systems can lead to differences in how judges decide a case and in the criteria that are used to determine whether or not a certain behavior should be criminalized.
As a result of its complexity and wide-ranging impact, law is an important field for study and research. The broad areas of law include:
The subjects of law are vast, covering virtually every aspect of human life. They are typically organized into three main categories, though they often overlap and intertwine. These categories are criminal law, civil law and administrative law. Criminal law encompasses the set of laws that govern how crimes are classified and prosecuted, while civil law addresses disputes between people such as divorce and property ownership. Administrative law covers government regulations and policies such as those that pertain to the use of public resources. These laws are often regulated through contracts and treaties that ensure fair treatment of citizens, the separation of powers and legal certainty. They can also be governed by the principles of supremacy of the law, equality before the law and accountability to the law. In addition, the law must be transparent and easily accessible to all citizens. This includes ensuring that all citizens are aware of how their government manages public resources and can request information about those resources from the government.