Law is the set of rules that a society develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. It is also the discipline and profession concerned with legal systems, legal theory and jurisprudence.
The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in a variety of ways. It is not a simple subject to understand, and different cultures develop different concepts of law, but there are some common themes in the way that laws shape human behaviour.
One of the key ideas is the idea that law consists of rules that are agreed upon and enforced by a community of people for good reasons, such as moral, religious or emotional values. Another key idea is that the law is a process in which a natural phenomenon will always produce a specific result: the law of gravity, for example.
The law defines a number of things, including property, rights and duties, responsibilities and obligations. The law may also control certain activities, such as censorship, criminal activity and the military. It may even limit personal freedoms, such as a ban on swearing or sexual harassment.
Law can be derived from many sources, including written constitutions and statutes adopted by a government, legislation passed by a parliament or assembly and the custom and practice of a particular region. The law is a complex and ever-changing phenomenon, and its development depends on many factors, including the nature of the society in which it exists, the political system that controls the nation-state, its culture, and the traditions that govern family life.
Some countries, especially in the developing world, have a very formalised and sophisticated system of law. In these, the source of law is usually a legislative body that establishes the constitutional framework for the state and issues regulations covering various aspects of the national life.
Other countries, particularly the developed western world, have a more loosely defined law. These jurisdictions are often referred to as civil law or common law. In these systems, decisions of higher courts are recognised as “law” and bind lower court judges, thus creating a body of law known as case law. The principle of precedent, or stare decisis, means that a decision made in a previous case will influence the outcome of future cases.
In both types of law, some of the main branches are tort law, which compensates people when they have been harmed, such as in an automobile accident or defamation, and contract law, which regulates commercial transactions. Other major areas are criminal law, which deals with offences against the state, labour law, and property law. There is also a significant amount of law that covers matters such as immigration and asylum. In addition, religious communities have their own laws, such as Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, which are used in some countries, as well as Christian canon law, which survives to this day in some church communities. The concept of law has a long and varied history, and its importance varies from country to country.