Law is the basis of a society, and laws govern and direct a wide range of activities. It is an important subject of study for students and scholars in a variety of disciplines, including philosophy, ethics, sociology, history, economics and politics. Law shapes human culture in a wide range of ways, and raises complex issues about justice and equality.
Legal systems vary in their form and substance, but most are based on some combination of a constitution or charter that establishes the fundamental principles of a state and sets out its powers, and the rules for the conduct of public business and private affairs. Generally, there are two types of law: criminal and civil. Criminal law deals with activities that are viewed as harmful to social order and may result in punishment by the state. Civil law involves disputes between individuals or organizations. Examples of civil cases include lawsuits resulting from automobile accidents or defamation of character. The law also provides compensation for damages.
A law is an enforceable rule that stipulates how people must behave or what they must and must not do. It is of a normative nature, whereas statements of fact are descriptive and do not have a prescriptive character. Laws are derived from many different sources, and their complexity is reflected in the broad scope of their application.
The practice of law is a professional activity that must be overseen by a government agency or independent regulating body, such as a bar association, bar council or law society. Lawyers must meet certain qualifications in terms of education, training and work experience to be allowed to practise law. In addition, they must undergo formal examinations to be admitted to the profession.
In some jurisdictions, such as the United States, laws are codified and consolidated by a national legislature, while in others, such as England, judges decide legal matters through case-law. The development of modern laws has been influenced by the Roman legal system, which was later adapted by medieval legal scholars.
Law also encompasses the rules and regulations of a state that govern the use and management of natural resources and utilities, such as water, electricity and energy. Such law imposes a degree of social responsibility on corporations that provide these services, which is called regulatory law.
The legal system is a source of social stability and continuity, and protects the interests of citizens from abuses of power by the government. It enshrines core human rights, such as the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to private property. It also ensures that all citizens are equal before the law and have access to justice, regardless of their wealth or social status. The rule of law is a principle of governance in which public and private institutions, and even the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated and equally enforced, independently adjudicated and in accordance with international human rights standards.