Law is a system of rules created and enforced by society or government institutions to regulate behavior and settle disputes. It has been variously described as a science and as an art of justice. The precise nature of law is a subject of ongoing debate. For example, some scholars have argued that law is not simply an order or a set of instructions but also encompasses a moral framework for judging right and wrong.
In most places, laws are based on a combination of statutes, court decisions, and common law. Statutes are formal legal regulations that establish the rights, duties, and responsibilities of parties to contracts and other agreements. Court decisions are legal opinions that help judges decide how the law applies in particular cases. Common law is the body of case decisions and customs that develops through practice and precedent over time.
A person who breaks a law may be subject to criminal penalties, such as fines or imprisonment. The most serious crimes are considered felonies, which carry substantial prison terms or even the death penalty. Most states have their own courts, with some having specialized felony courts that focus on murder and other major crimes. In the United States, federal courts have jurisdiction over some cases that involve issues of national importance and interpreting the Constitution and acts of Congress.
The study of law is called jurisprudence, and is an important part of a university curriculum. Students who plan to become lawyers should study a broad range of subjects, including history, political science, philosophy, and economics. A well-rounded education will enable them to understand the background and context of legal issues and to make sound arguments in favor of their positions.
Law can refer to a wide variety of legal activities, from settling disputes between neighbors to establishing the rights and obligations of people in a community. Countries that have weaker formal justice systems often rely on customary law, which is based on longstanding local practices that greatly shape ideas of justice.
The term “law” can also refer to a set of specific commands or rules issued by God, especially in the Old Testament Scriptures. The use of the word in this sense is not consistent throughout the Bible. However, the biblical book of Leviticus is usually associated with law. The New Testament book of Acts is sometimes also considered to be law, as it focuses on the teachings and commands of Jesus Christ.