Law is a system of rules, enforced by the state or its agents, which governs human conduct. The term can be used to describe a range of fields, such as criminal law, labour law or family law. It can also be applied to a profession such as a lawyer or barrister. The law is designed to serve a number of purposes, including establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. It can be divided into common law and civil law systems.
In “common law” legal systems, decisions made by courts are acknowledged as “law” on an equal footing with statutes passed through the legislative process and regulations issued by executive branch agencies. This principle, known as the doctrine of precedent or stare decisis, is intended to assure that judges and barristers follow a consistent line of reasoning in similar cases. In contrast, “civil law” systems are more procedural and rely on legislative statutes and codes of jurisprudence to determine legal questions.
The law can be defined as the sum of all the rules that a given community recognises to be binding on its members. This imposes constraints on behaviour and prohibits certain activities, such as murder or theft. The law can be based on a variety of sources, including religious precepts, such as Jewish Halakha or Islamic Sharia and Christian canon law. Alternatively, it can be based on tradition or historical practice. It can also be derived from the natural environment, such as a river’s floodplain or wind pattern.
Legal subjects can be broadly grouped into three categories, though the boundaries between them often blur:
Contract law governs agreements that exchange goods, services or anything else of value. Examples include contracts for the sale of land or shares in a company. The term contract can also refer to an entire set of legal rules governing a particular trade, industry or profession, such as a labour code or medical laws.
Property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible property (real estate, such as land or buildings) and movable personal property, such as clothes, books and vehicles. Property can also be referred to in terms of rights in rem, which cover ownership of land, and rights in personam, which cover possessions.
The legal system is complex and ever changing, so it’s difficult to pin down exactly what the law comprises or even how it works. However, a few broad principles are clear. For example, it’s illegal to steal in most places because of the law against stealing. The laws are enforceable by punishments such as fines or jail sentences. In addition, a number of other factors influence the law, such as the culture of a society and its values, the interests of powerful social groups, the nature of conflicts and the economic conditions of a nation. These factors can all affect the content of a legal system and its application in specific situations. This is the reason why a country’s legal system is such an important factor in its national character.