The study of law is the discipline that describes the systems, institutions and processes by which governments and communities make and enforce rules. It encompasses a vast array of subjects, from the ancient practice of coroners’ courts to the latest developments in electronic law reports. It is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, ensuring fair treatment and safety for all citizens. It is also the source of much conflict and debate. For example, it is not uncommon for people to try to overthrow the legal system they find oppressive, and many countries have witnessed the rise of movements calling for greater democratic control or greater rights for their citizens.
The concept of law has been defined in numerous ways, with scholars debating its nature and purpose since the earliest days of human civilization. Some have argued that it is merely a system of rules created by humans to control their behaviour, others have claimed that it is the natural result of social and political evolution, and still others have taken the view that it is a moral and ethical framework to guide society.
A central aspect of law is that it identifies the limits on the power of government and defines the ways in which its authority can be resisted or denied. For example, in most countries there are laws that define the minimum wages that employers must pay, which workplace safety standards must be met, and what punishments a criminal can expect if they commit a crime. These laws are designed to protect the rights of individuals and provide a level playing field in business and commerce.
Other important areas of the law include labour and employment law, which governs the relationships between a worker and their employer and trade union, and includes the right to strike. Banking law and regulation set the minimum standards that banks must meet, and rules about how investments should be made. Environmental law covers the protection of the planet and its resources, including regulating companies that manage public utilities such as water and energy.
There are also specialised areas of the law that deal with particular types of agreement or relationship, such as family law and immigration law. Intellectual property law deals with the rights people have over their creations, such as artwork and music, through a type of law called copyright. Patent law covers the rights people have to inventions they create, and trademark law governs the use of names for companies or products.
The law is a complex and constantly changing set of rules that governs all aspects of life. Its development is the story of a nation’s history, and it embodies many elements that cannot be reduced to simple logical argument. It is influenced by the felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, the intuitions of public policy, whether avowed or unconscious, and even the prejudices that judges may have. All of these factors contribute to the nature and complexity of the law.