Law is the set of rules that govern a certain area of life. It deals with crime, business, social relationships, property and other aspects of daily life. It can be divided into public, private and civil law, although some legal systems have a broad range of subject matter.
Public law refers to the rule of law as imposed by governments or other organizations. It can include laws regulating crime, the environment, health and safety, education, employment, immigration, taxation, finance, telecommunications and more.
Government is the central authority that enacts laws, which bind all people who live within its jurisdiction. It also has the power to prosecute criminals and impose fines and penalties.
Legislation is the enactment of laws, by parliament or other governmental authorities. It consists of statutes passed by parliament, and regulations issued by governments and executive agencies.
Courts are the third level of lawmaking, and they are responsible for interpreting and applying these laws to people. They are staffed with lawyers who interpret the statutes and make decisions in line with them.
Precedent, or stare decisis, is the judicial doctrine that future courts should follow previous decisions, so they do not reach different conclusions. In some “common law” legal systems, such as those in the United States, courts use this judicial precedent to decide cases.
Regulation aims to keep companies that provide public services on a legal basis and comply with standards. These can include environmental protection, energy and water supply, telecoms and the like.
Religion can also be considered a form of law, but often its impact is limited to the interpretation and application of a religious precept. It is usually not possible to enact changes in a religion without compromising the precepts.
It is based on the belief that God establishes and commands moral and ethical principles, and that judges and governments are bound by these beliefs and precepts. Examples of religiously based laws include the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, as well as Christian canon law.
Sociology of law is the study of how law affects society and its members. It is sometimes associated with sociology of politics, as a study of the influence of political philosophy, economic interests and ethical values on law.
The social function of law is to satisfy human wants, such as rights or responsibilities, and protect individuals from harm. It is coercive and, in many countries, can be used as a form of social control.
A social institution, law is not an independent system of rules akin to geometry but a product of heated conflicts over historical and cultural influences. It is a means of social engineering, as conflicting pulls of politics, philosophy, economic interests and ethical values constantly struggle for recognition.
It can also be a vehicle for social change, such as in the case of modern euthanasia.
Historically, the concept of law is rooted in Roman and Greek ideas of justice. Early modern scholars, such as Max Weber, developed the idea of a realist approach to law that focused on its role in society and its relationship with other institutions. This was a response to a perceived inability of traditional legal theories to address the complex and interwoven factors that influence law.