Law is a set of rules that a society or government develops to deal with issues such as crime, business agreements and social relationships. The term is also used to refer to the profession of lawyers and judges who specialise in law.
Different people have many different ideas about what constitutes law. Some believe that a definition of law should include the concept of what is fair and just. Others think that a definition of law should be based on the concepts of freedom and equality.
Some philosophers have argued that the concept of law must change to reflect new social problems and situations. For example, new technologies and developments in science require a revised legal system that can deal with issues such as genetic engineering. Other philosophers have argued that there is a need for a new concept of law to deal with new types of criminal activities, such as cybercrime.
The precise definition of law is a subject of long-standing debate. Among other things, it depends on how a society defines its basic values and the purpose of its governing institutions. For example, a nation’s laws may be designed to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities, provide for orderly social change and promote social justice.
A country’s laws can be derived from several sources, including legislation by groups of lawmakers resulting in statutes; decrees or regulations by the executive branch; and court decisions, known as precedent or stare decisis, in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts, which are enforceable by the courts.
Most countries have multiple legal systems. For example, an individual can be prosecuted under criminal law in some nations and civil law in other nations. A country’s constitution may define its basic values and impose limits on the power of its governing institutions. For example, the US Constitution establishes a framework for separation of powers that ensures no single person has absolute power over the country.
There are many different areas of law, such as labour, banking and tax law. Labour law encompasses issues such as a worker’s right to a minimum wage, safety and health benefits and union membership. Banking law concerns financial regulation and rules about deposit and investment practices. Tax law covers the way that money is collected and distributed by the government and by businesses.
Other areas of law are international, family and environmental law. International law deals with the rights and obligations of nations to each other and with respect to non-nation states. Family law includes matters such as divorce proceedings and the custody of children. Environmental law is concerned with the protection of the natural environment. Private citizens can be held liable under this type of law for damage caused to public or private property. There are also different areas of specialised law, such as criminal, civil and constitutional law. Biolaw is a developing field that examines the intersection between law and the biosciences.