Law is a system of rules that a society or government develops and enforces in order to manage social relationships and settle disputes. Law governs a wide range of activities from murder and robbery to civil rights and taxation. Laws may be enacted by a legislature and codified into statutes, made by the executive through decrees and regulations or established through court precedent in common law jurisdictions. Laws also regulate the governing body itself by establishing the powers and limits of its authority.
Legal systems vary widely across the world and are shaped by culture, economics, history and politics in a multitude of ways. Law is the core of a nation’s political life, and every nation has its own unique history of laws that define the country and its citizens.
Modern law is largely a result of the emergence of the nation-state, with its corresponding centralized governmental institutions. This development reshaped thinking about the extension of state power, and many of today’s issues concerning democracy and the rule of law are rooted in the expansion of state authority and the law.
The study of law includes an understanding of how a society defines its laws and rules, how those rules are applied, and how the decisions of judges or jurors are reviewed. Law encompasses a broad range of subjects, and a career in the legal profession is becoming increasingly attractive for young people.
Law includes criminal law, which deals with the punishment of convicted offenders; labour or employment law, which deals with the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade unions, and concerns workplace rights such as health and safety or a minimum wage; and tort law, which covers damage to property or injury caused by others. The subjects of law also include the law of evidence, which deals with the procedures that a court must follow when conducting a trial or hearing and the rules of admissibility of evidence; and the law of contracts, which deals with the rights and obligations between individuals when buying and selling goods and services.
Property law is a central part of most civil laws, and it is usually divided into two categories: real property (sometimes called land) and personal property. Real property refers to ownership of land and its fixed objects, whereas personal property includes movable items such as cars, jewellery or computers. There is also a complex area of commercial law, which includes contracts, company law and trusts, and all of these are rooted in the medieval Lex Mercatoria, or Law Merchant.
Disputes over who is responsible for a given activity are settled by civil or criminal courts. The study of law also involves a detailed understanding of the constitution, whether it be a written or implicit document that establishes a country’s fundamental principles and values; or, in more contemporary times, the constitutional framework that guides an individual’s freedoms and rights as set out by international treaties. The field of law also encompasses the doctrine of administrative law, which is concerned with how a government and its agencies define their authority and make policies.