The law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. The precise definition of law is a matter of longstanding debate, but it has often been described as a science or as the art of justice. The legal system provides a framework for society to function, and laws can be enforced through mechanisms like police or courts, or by sanctions, such as fines and imprisonment. Laws can also be applied to a group of people or to an individual, and may apply in both private and public spaces. Individuals may create legally binding contracts, and the practice of law is a career choice for some.
The origins of law are complicated, but it is generally accepted that there are several types. Legal history reveals many different legal systems, and the practice of law has been influenced by economics, culture, politics, religion and philosophy. Traditionally, the main purposes of law have been to keep peace, maintain the status quo, protect minority rights and facilitate social change. However, some governments use law to oppress minorities and others to control the opposition.
In most countries, law is a complex and constantly changing field. Governments make and change laws, which are enforced by a variety of agencies and departments, including the police, military, courts and judges. Many areas of law are covered by a single legal system, such as contracts or property law, while other areas require more than one system to cover all the relevant areas. For example, civil law may incorporate English common law, French civil law, or the Corpus Juris Civilis of Roman law.
The most fundamental law definition is that a set of rules, whether written or unwritten, dictates the actions of individuals and groups in a society. These rules can be anything from a set of guidelines for driving to the obligations of employees in an employment relationship. Laws can be made by a legislature, which results in statutes; by the executive, in decrees and regulations; or by judges in common law jurisdictions, through precedent. In the latter case, judges’ decisions become “law” through a process called stare decisis, which means that future cases will likely follow similar paths. Other areas of law include constitutional law, administrative law and criminal law.