Law is a system of rules that a society or government develops to deal with crime, business agreements, and social relationships. It can also be used to refer to the people who work within the legal system, such as judges and lawyers. The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways. It serves four principal purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.
Legal systems differ in how they make their laws, but the general principles are similar: a legislature or other central body codifies and consolidates laws into a code. Judges or barristers then apply these laws to specific cases. In “common law” countries, decisions made by higher courts (known as case law or stare decisis) are binding on lower courts. In contrast, in “civil law” jurisdictions, legislative statutes and executive regulations have priority over judge-made case law.
The law is a complex subject, covering a wide range of issues such as human rights, property and contract law, criminal law, international law and tax law. It can be divided into two broad categories: substantive law and procedural law. Substantive law includes things like criminal, civil and corporate laws, whilst procedural law relates to how the legal system works.
In modern societies, laws are generally enforced by government agencies. In many countries, the responsibilities of these agencies are broadly defined in constitutional and other legislation. For example, the UK Parliament’s website explains that the Crown Prosecution Service prosecutes criminal cases, whilst the Home Office deals with immigration and asylum matters.
While the precise meaning of the term “law” is a matter of debate, it can be seen as the set of rules that social or governmental institutions establish to regulate behaviour. These are enforceable by coercion or other means of enforcement. In a more limited sense, the word can also be applied to a scientific process that someone has invented.
A key element of the rule of law is that it should be clear, publicised and stable. It should be consistent and impartial, and it should ensure human rights as well as property and contractual rights. It should also be accessible to all and administered by competent, ethical and independent representatives and neutrals who reflect the makeup of the community they serve.
The study of law is an academic discipline, and a career in the law is an increasingly popular choice for young people. There are many different paths into a legal career, from studying for a degree in law to becoming a lawyer or judge. There is also a huge amount of professional debate about the nature of the law and how it should be changed. For instance, there is a debate about whether judges should be allowed to use their own sense of justice when judging cases or if they should simply follow the letter of the law. In addition, there are debates about how much power should be given to the courts and how the judges should be selected for their jobs.