Law is the system of rules that a society or government develops in order to regulate its business agreements and social relationships. The word is also used to refer to a particular branch of law, for example, employment law or family law. The law is a major source of social debate and raises complex issues about equality, fairness and justice. It is the subject of a vast range of scholarly study, including legal history, philosophy and economic analysis.
A general distinction can be made between civil law jurisdictions, in which a central body codifies and consolidates their laws, and common law systems, where judge-made precedent is binding. Neither type of legal system is necessarily better than the other, but the choice is important for how the law is perceived and applied in different parts of the world.
There are many different branches of law, covering almost all aspects of human life and activity. Criminal law is concerned with preventing and punishing crimes, and civil law covers disputes between people. Regulatory law covers the provision of services such as electricity, gas, water and banking, and the rules that must be followed by public officials such as police officers and judges.
Private property is the basis of many kinds of law, as is family law and labour law. Contract law covers the rules that must be followed when exchanging goods or services, and intellectual property law deals with the ownership of ideas, such as trademarks and copyrights.
Legal systemic evolution has varied widely, with some areas of law developing independently and others being imposed by force or treaty. For example, most countries have a constitution, which is an essential element of national identity and defines the fundamental rights of their citizens. But in many cases, a country’s constitutional principles are not fully applied by the courts or other parts of the law enforcement apparatus.
The law is based on a combination of factors, including natural and religious law. The Natural Law theory, formulated by Thomas Jefferson and others among the Founding Fathers of the United States, asserted that human law should be consistent with the laws revealed in nature and the Bible.
The law is often viewed as a social institution that serves to protect the individual from excessive power of government and corporations. Its role as a mediator of relations between individuals is also important. The law can resolve conflicts between two parties by determining who owns what, and how that can be protected. It can also prevent wars by defining the boundaries of nations. To be effective, the law must apply equally to all members of a community. In this way it ensures that the police and other state institutions act fairly, without showing favouritism or discrimination. It must also be impartial and independent of religion or personal opinion. In some religious communities, the laws are explicitly derived from scripture and tradition through a process known as ijtihad (reasoning by analogy), qiyas (consensus) or ijma (confirmation). In other cases, such as the Islamic Sharia law, the laws are interpreted through a series of legal methods known as Fiqh.