Law is the system of rules that governs a society and is enforced by a controlling authority, usually through penalties. It covers many aspects of a person’s life, from their rights and duties toward other people to their possessions and property. Laws are usually based on principles that are derived from culture, family and religious traditions. They can also be based on experience and a desire to promote fairness in a given society. Some laws may be more effective than others, depending on how they are enforced, what they cover and whether they are based on true facts or false assumptions. The purpose of a law is to prevent conflict and allow people to work together in peace.
Most countries have a legislature, parliament or congress that makes and passes laws. Legislative bodies are elected (chosen) by a nation-state’s citizens. In some cases, a ruling monarch or leader may also make laws. Various branches of law exist to regulate and limit this power and to protect the rights of individuals.
The main functions of a law are to keep the peace, maintain the status quo and preserve personal and property rights. It also serves to provide social justice and enable orderly and controlled social change. Different legal systems serve these purposes in different ways. For example, an authoritarian government can keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it may oppress minorities or political opponents. Conversely, a democracy may be less effective at keeping the peace and maintaining the status quo but is more likely to promote social justice and support peaceful social change.
Individuals may choose to become lawyers or judges and help create, interpret and apply the law. These professionals are called solicitors or barristers in the United Kingdom, attorneys in the United States and jurists elsewhere. Lawyers can specialise in the field of law they practice – for example, transactional lawyers who deal with contracts or forensic jurisprudence (“law and science”).
The law is a broad area of study that includes many disciplines, such as economics, politics, history, philosophy, religion and sociology. For example, criminal law focuses on punishment for offences, labour law studies the tripartite industrial relationship between employer, worker and trade union, and constitutional law examines the way a constitution or a bill of rights is written.
Other areas of law include property law, which defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible property like buildings or land and intangible property such as bank accounts and shares. It also covers ownership, leasing and transfer of title to properties. Competition law tries to control businesses that seek to manipulate the market through collusion or unfair business practices, while intellectual property law aims to safeguard the integrity and value of creative works such as music, paintings and literary manuscripts. In addition, civil procedure and criminal procedure define the rules that a court must follow as a trial or hearing proceeds. This can also include which materials are admissible in a case.