What is Law?

Law is the system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, with some seeing it as a science, and others arguing that it is a form of justice or a means of distributing privileges and burdens amongst society members. State-enforced laws can be made by a group legislature or a single legislator, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or established by judges through precedent, usually in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals may also create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that adopt alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation.

The study of law spans a hugely broad range of subjects, from criminal and civil laws to property and business regulation. It encompasses the study of historical legal systems and the development of legal theory, as well as current issues of international and family law. It provides the subject matter for a wealth of scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology, as well as raising complex issues concerning equality and fairness.

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Legal systems differ worldwide, with some using legislative and constitutional principles to guide judicial decision-making; other systems follow the practice of “stare decisis” or “following the precedents” of earlier cases to assure that similar cases reach similar decisions. Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people.

The legal system can be broadly divided into civil law, which governs relationships between private individuals and companies, public or government bodies; and criminal law, which deals with the punishment of conduct considered harmful to society. Other areas of law include immigration and nationality law, which concerns the right of a person to live and work in a country that is not their own; family law, which covers marriage and divorce proceedings; and transactional law, which is concerned with business and money matters. There is also an emerging field of biolaw, which concerns the intersection of law and the biosciences.