The law is the body of rules created and enforced by a society or a government to control behavior. Its aims are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes, and protect liberties and rights. Some legal systems are more effective than others at meeting these goals.
A legal system may include written laws, custom and practices, or social mores and traditions. It may also encompass a group’s religious beliefs or the will of God. A society based on the law is usually stable and peaceful.
The discipline and profession of law are devoted to the study of such systems. It also serves as a source of scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, economics and sociology. It raises important and complex issues of equality, fairness and justice.
Law can be divided into three broad areas: criminal, civil and administrative. Criminal law involves actions that are considered harmful to the social order and may result in imprisonment or fines. Civil law, in turn, addresses the resolution of lawsuits between individuals or organizations.
Within each of these general areas are numerous sub-disciplines. For example, labour law examines the tripartite industrial relationship of worker, employer and trade union; family law examines relationships between parents and children; property law concerns ownership of property; and evidence law concerns what materials are admissible in court cases.
Some countries have a common law system, which places the decisions of judges on equal footing with statutes passed through the legislative process. This system, sometimes called stare decisis, means that courts’ decisions in cases with similar facts and law will tend to be the same unless challenged. Other countries have civil law systems, which are based on codes that explicitly set out the rules that judges should follow in deciding a case.
A nation’s legal system is influenced by its culture, its historical relations with other nations and its international relationships. For example, a nation ruled by an autocracy is likely to have a less stable and peaceful society than one with democratic institutions. The law is the foundation for a society, but it must be flexible enough to respond to changes in a country’s circumstances. To do this, the laws must provide a clear and accessible framework for resolving conflicts, enforcing rights, and redressing injustices. This is the task of legislators, the judiciary and the police. The law must be consistently applied to all members of a society, including the government, businesses and private citizens. To ensure this, the judicial branch must provide a high standard of impartiality and integrity. This is the role of the supreme court. The goal is to achieve a just and reasonable solution that can be accepted by all parties in a dispute. If that is not possible, then the law must be changed to reflect current values. This is the role of the legislature.