The law is a set of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. Its precise definition is a matter of long-standing debate, but it usually involves some kind of enforceable rule that people must follow, with its enforcers taking the necessary action to prevent people from breaking the law. This may be done through state-enforced laws made by a legislature, resulting in statutes, or by judges through precedent in common law jurisdictions. The discipline of study concerned with the laws is known as law or jurisprudence.
Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways, and is a key mediator of relations between people. Some law relates to natural processes and events, such as the law of gravity or the law of supply and demand. Other law is imposed by human institutions or societies, and some is derived from religion. For example, Jewish halakha and Islamic Sharia provide some law for their communities, while Christian canons have also provided a source of law for some church groups.
Some of the most important laws are enforceable contracts and property, which protect people’s rights to their own possessions. This includes personal property such as cars and homes, as well as intangible property like bank accounts and shares. Disputes about property are addressed by civil law, while crimes committed against a community are addressed by criminal law.
Other areas of law include administrative and labour law, which regulate public services and industry, and environmental and commercial law. Regulatory laws are usually put in place to ensure that companies supplying public goods and utilities meet certain standards of responsibility towards their customers. For example, water, gas and electricity are typically regulated in most OECD countries.
Various laws are established in the different parts of the world, and are influenced by cultural, historical and political factors. For instance, a country’s constitution might determine the type of law that is to be followed by the nation. In the United States, for example, the law is influenced by the constitutional structure and the precedent established by the Supreme Court and lower courts.
Law is a complex subject, with many branches that overlap and intersect. However, some of the most significant branches are contract law; criminal law; evidence and bankruptcy law; civil rights and constitutional law; property law; and tort law. There are also many areas of dispute within each branch, such as the legality or morality of certain practices and behaviours. For example, there is a heated debate about whether judges should be allowed to use their own sense of right and wrong when deciding cases. Some of these arguments are based on a belief that law should not comprise precepts that cannot be empirically verified, such as religious doctrine; while others argue that laws should reflect the needs and aspirations of the community they are meant to govern. This is why the concept of law continues to be such an important area of study and discussion, even in this age of rapidly evolving technology.