Law is the set of rules that a particular place or authority decides for the purpose of keeping order and making sure people’s rights are protected. It is enforced by mechanisms like police and courts, and sanctions (fines) can be imposed when the rules are broken. Law is an important part of most societies, and there is a lot of debate about what it should contain.
The study of law involves examining laws, their origin and the ways in which they are created. It also studies how the laws are interpreted and applied in different situations. It can cover legal issues such as censorship, crime and punishment, and war. In many countries today, the main source of laws is a constitution that sets out the overall framework, and then politicians in legislatures (parliments or congresses) can make more laws for specific matters of detail. Some countries use a common law system, while others use a civil law system.
Some people argue that the law should be based on the natural processes of human behaviour, rather than the beliefs and ideas of particular groups. This idea is called natural law, and it was popularised by philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Aquinas. It is also the basis of some religions.
Other people argue that the law should be based more on what is perceived as right and wrong by the general public. These ideas are sometimes influenced by culture, and can be reflected in family and social habits. In addition, religious books and ideas such as the Vedas or the Bible have been a major influence on the laws of many countries throughout history.
Historically, the main reasons for creating the law have been the need to establish standards, maintain order, settle disputes and protect liberties and property. Some of these goals are achieved through the use of specific types of law, such as property law which deals with ownership and transfers of property, contract law that governs transactions between individuals, labour law which concerns the tripartite relationship between employer, worker and trade union, and criminal or civil procedure laws that determine how a trial or hearing should proceed.
Some laws have very complicated rules and procedures, and interpreting them can be a specialist field in itself. For example, tax law is a particularly complex area of law, because the rules change all the time and can depend on the individual’s situation. Other areas of law include intellectual property (which covers the rights people have over their own work, such as art and music), trust law (which sets out rules for money that is put into investments), maritime law, medical jurisprudence and the rules of evidence which determine which materials are admissible in court. Those who are specialists in legal fields can be called lawyers, jurists or attorneys. They can be either transactional attorneys who do contracts, or litigators who go to court. They can also be specialists in a particular area of law, such as employment or civil rights.