The law is a system of rules that a country or community recognises as regulating the behaviour of its members. Its purpose is to protect people and their property, settle disputes and prevent crime. Law is an area of study that encompasses a range of fields, from contract law to human rights law. It also includes the professions of legal adviser, judge and police officer.
The laws of a nation vary between countries and are based on a variety of factors, including history, culture and religion. Some cultures use the same laws as other cultures, while others have a unique legal tradition that has evolved from local customs and traditions. The main branches of law are civil, criminal and administrative. Civil law concerns private disputes between individuals, while criminal law relates to offences committed against the state or its agencies. Administrative law covers the laws that govern government agencies, such as the Electoral Commission, whilst constitutional law deals with the separation of powers and other aspects of the national government.
In many parts of the world, there are both common law and statutory systems of law. Statutory laws are enacted by legislative bodies, while common law is developed from decisions of the courts and other sources such as treatises and academic journals.
Commercial law, labour law and property law are all examples of statutory laws. Contract law relates to agreements to exchange goods and services, while the modern legal concept of company law arose from the Law of Trusts, which set up companies with separate legal personalities. Property law relates to ownership of land and buildings (known as real property) and possessions such as clothes and books (called personal property).
While the majority of legal disputes in most countries are settled by civil courts, there are some that are dealt with by criminal or military tribunals. These courts have a more punitive approach to justice than the civil court system.
The international law of the law involves a country’s relationship with other nations and organisations, including the UN and NATO. It also relates to military, diplomatic and trade issues. International law is influenced by the customary laws of war and the responsibilities of states towards each other, which are codified in conventions like the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of warfare. It also includes the principles of non-interference in internal affairs and state sovereignty. This is a topic of particular interest in the current era of globalisation.