Law is a system of rules that governs and controls human behaviour. It is used by governments and societies to regulate crime, business, social relationships, property, and finance.
It is made up of laws written by legislators, and enforced by police, courts and prison systems. These laws are designed to protect the rights of individuals and ensure that everyone behaves in a way that is moral, ethical, and safe.
Legal systems vary from country to country, and include a range of governmental and non-governmental agencies. A common feature of most systems is that all citizens are required to respect the law and obey it or face punishment.
A law may be made by a government, or it can be a set of rules that apply in a particular region or territory, such as all of the laws for a country or state.
In most countries, a person who breaks the law can face penalties, such as being fined or jailed.
Laws can be based on religious precepts, such as those enacted by Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia. Christian canon law also survives in some church communities.
Other kinds of law are based on economic principles, such as those outlined by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Financial regulation involves limiting the amount of money that can be borrowed by banks, or setting minimum amounts of capital they must hold.
Some forms of law are based on scientific theory, such as the theory of evolution or the law of gravity. These theories are often referred to as natural law.
In the United States and many other nations, law is governed by a Constitution, which lists the most basic rules of the country. In most countries, law is written by politicians, such as senators or congressmen.
A person who holds a degree in law or is a member of the profession of law is called a lawyer. A lawyer is a trained professional who advises and represents people in court, and carries out research into the law.
There are three main areas of law: civil, criminal and evidence. These are the core subjects of law, although they can be studied in greater detail within specialised fields.
Civil law focuses on laws of contract, property, and the relationship between people. It is a legal system that is generally influenced by European ideas, with some aspects surviving in Africa and Asia.
Criminal law focuses on laws of crime, such as murder or treason. It is a legal system that is usually influenced by Roman-Dutch ideas, with some aspects surviving in Africa.
The concept of law was debated by philosophers and jurists throughout history, but it was dominated by utilitarian theory in the 19th century. Utilitarians, such as John Austin, believed that law embodied “commands” from the sovereign, to whom people had a habit of obedience.
Historically, the concept of law was divided into two broad groups, natural law and human-made or “man-made” law. The latter has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy, and was revived by philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages. However, both sides of this debate argue that law should be based on a moral foundation.