Law is a system of rules enforced by a group or society to govern behavior and provide for social justice. It is a highly specialized field of study and practice, with many complex theories about good and evil, empirical and social science or justice (proper distribution of goods/privileges and burdens in a society).
Law encompasses a wide variety of fields. The most common are criminal law, which deals with offenses against people or property, and civil law, which deals with disputes between individuals. Other fields of law include family law, corporate law and international law. Criminal laws may cover issues such as murder, fraud and terrorism. Civil laws may deal with matters such as contracts, property and negligence.
The four principal purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The ability of a legal system to serve these purposes depends on its political-legal structure. For example, an authoritarian government can keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it can also oppress minorities or other opponents. A democratic government, on the other hand, can promote social change while ensuring that citizens are free and equal before the law.
In most nation-states, the power to make and enforce laws rests with a single political institution, usually a legislature or parliament. A legislature typically consists of a large number of elected representatives, known as MPs.
A legislative body may create a wide range of laws, but the most important are the constitution and legislation governing the finances of a nation-state and its relationship with other nations. It may also regulate a wide variety of other activities, including education, health, housing, labor, and environment.
The primary function of the judicial branch is to interpret and apply the law to particular cases. This is done through a process called case law. Judges use prior court decisions involving similar situations to help determine how the law applies to the case at hand. Those decisions are then binding on lower courts and future judges. This is called the “doctrine of stare decisis” in Latin, which means to stand by previous decisions.
Other sources of law include constitutional provisions, statutory laws, and treaties. Statutory laws are made by a legislature and are typically detailed and enforceable, while constitutional provisions and treaties generally set broad guidelines for the courts to follow in making their decisions.
The most sophisticated legal systems in the world today are in the form of civil law systems, which are found on all continents and account for about 60% of the world’s population. These systems rely on concepts, categories and rules largely drawn from Roman law and canon law, sometimes supplemented or modified by local custom or culture.