Law is a set of rules or customs developed by a government or society to deal with crime, trade, social relations, property, finance, and more. The word “law” is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as a body of rules of conduct that is prescribed, recognized, and enforced by a controlling authority.
The term law is used to refer to statutes, regulations, court decisions and administrative laws of governments and institutions. They have the power to make new laws on certain topics, to change existing law and to nullify a court’s ruling based on constitutional grounds.
Statutes (Latin: sexenius) are legal orders made by the legislative or executive branch of government. These are often more detailed than court decisions, but they are not binding unless a court agrees to their application in a particular case.
Regulations relate to the provision of public services and utilities, such as water, energy, gas and telecomms. These are usually governed by the government, although in some countries private companies provide the services and regulate them on behalf of the government.
The main types of law are criminal, civil, and administrative. Criminal law deals with offenses against individuals or the community itself, such as crimes of violence, while civil law applies to disputes between individuals and corporations.
There are many different legal systems around the world, with about 60% of the global population relying on civil law systems, which are largely derived from Roman law, with some influence from canon law and local custom. These systems are generally secularized over time and encourage cooperation among human beings, although they can be influenced by religious traditions or cultures.
Common law is an alternative to civil law, and consists of a series of codified principles that govern the relationship between the courts and the legislature. It has an explicit “doctrine of precedent” or “stare decisis” — Latin for “to stand by a decision.”
Constitutional law is another form of law, derived from the United States constitution. It is the basis for the federal government, and is interpreted by courts that sit in each state. Occasionally courts will create new law by departing from previous precedent or by issuing a decision in a case that involves novel issues.
Unlike common law, constitutional law is more flexible. Depending on the nature of the issue, courts may strike down a statute or regulations, or they can nullify the entire statute.
The definition of law varies from author to author, but it can be broadly described as the rule of conduct developed by a government or society that is followed, controlled and enforced by a governing authority.
In modern times, the extension of the state by the military and policing has created new questions about the accountability of government and its actions. In the 19th century, Max Weber and others reshaped thinking on this subject by studying the effect of law on society.
The sociological school of law focuses on the effect of law and society on each other, and studies how law affects people’s lives in their everyday interactions with others. They also study law as an instrument of social progress and a means for improving human rights and liberties.