Law is a set of rules that governs the actions of individuals and communities. Laws can be created and enforced by governments, or they can be established through private contracts. The rules of law are often influenced by a constitution, a written or tacit document that codifies the rights of people.
The word “law” is often used in a general sense to refer to a body of customs, regulations and rules that have been accepted by a society. However, in the Bible, it refers specifically to the commands and regulations of the Mosaic covenant.
In a nation, law can serve to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, protect individual rights, promote social justice and provide for orderly social change. Some legal systems are more effective than others at achieving these goals.
Government and law are closely linked, with political power affecting who makes laws and how they are applied. Unstable or authoritarian governments may not fulfill the basic functions of law, which is to ensure that people have a means to resolve disputes peacefully.
Legislators make statutes and regulations, while judges decide cases using precedent. Precedent binds courts to follow earlier decisions and is usually considered binding.
Common law jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, use judge-made precedent to bind their courts. The principle of stare decisis binds higher courts to follow lower court decisions to ensure that similar cases reach the same results.
Criminal law deals with conduct that is harmful to social order and that can result in imprisonment or fines. It includes offenses that are punishable by death, such as murder and genocide.
Civil law, which is not to be confused with criminal law, covers lawsuits (disputes) between individuals or organizations. It can include contract law, employment law and consumer law.
The law can also be a source of scholarly inquiry into the history of law, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. It raises important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness and justice.
There are many kinds of law, including: constitutional, international, criminal and civil. A lawyer may practice in all of these areas or specialize in one area.
Religion plays a significant role in law, either by providing its own set of laws or by acting as an intermediary between the people and the state. Laws based on religious beliefs are commonly called “religious law.” Christian canon law and Jewish Halakha, for example, are examples of religiously rooted legal systems.
Companies, businesses and other commercial organisations also need a body of laws to ensure that they behave responsibly towards customers and other stakeholders. These might include regulations on unfair contractual terms and clauses or directives on airline baggage insurance.
Company and commercial law is sometimes confused with labour law, which deals with a tripartite industrial relationship between workers, employers and trade unions. It includes collective bargaining regulation and the right to strike.
The law can be a complex and controversial subject, but it is essential for society to function as a whole. In Canada, for example, the law serves four main purposes: to establish standards, to maintain order, to resolve disputes and to protect people’s liberties and rights.