Law is a body of rules that is created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate human behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, with law variously described as both a science and an art of justice.
The term “law” encompasses all the principles, policies and procedures that a society or an organization adopts to govern itself and its members. It can also be used to refer to a particular type of legal action or litigation. Law is not to be confused with morality, which consists of the set of principles a person may use in deciding what is right or wrong.
Most jurisdictions have laws that dictate what a person may or may not do, and these laws are enforceable by the state or national government. The specifics of the law differ from country to country, however. The United States, for example, has a common law system that relies on the decisions judges make in individual cases when a disagreement arises. These rulings are then compiled and become part of case law. In contrast, countries such as Japan have a civil law system that uses codes to clearly define the rules and principles judges must follow when deciding a case.
Some of the most important aspects of a jurisdiction’s law are its political structure and the power it possesses to make and enforce laws. The power to establish and enforce the law rests with a government, and the nation-state (as nations are called in international law) is the fundamental unit of human governance. The existence of a stable, democratic government is one of the main defining features of a state that can be considered a “lawful” society.
The laws of a country are shaped by the culture, history and traditions that are inherited from past generations, as well as by the social environment in which the government operates. These factors influence the nature of a nation’s laws and the degree to which they reflect its values. For example, a law that prohibits prostitution is likely to be more strictly enforced in a society with high social tolerance for such activities.
The study of law is highly specialized and requires an in-depth knowledge of a variety of subjects. Some of the major areas include contract law, criminal law, employment law and property law. In addition, there is a broad spectrum of less-defined subjects that law students and practitioners may encounter. These subjects are often interrelated and can be quite complex. For example, employment law includes not only the tripartite relationship of worker, employer and trade union but also the law that regulates the minimum wage, workplace safety and employee rights. Property law encompasses both the right to own tangible assets such as buildings and vehicles, as well as intangible assets such as stocks and bank accounts. Law is a subject that permeates every aspect of life. This makes it an extremely challenging and interesting field to study.