Law is the set of rules that governs the way people behave and what they may require from others. It is one of the most important aspects of social life. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people.
Law refers to the rules of conduct established by governments and other groups in order to maintain or improve social order, protect people from harm and secure the rights of individuals. It includes both criminal and civil law.
The laws of a country are often codified in a national code. This may be done by a legislature, or a central body.
In modern times, law is also the basis of a social order in which citizens and private actors are accountable for their actions and abide by certain standards of behavior and ethics. The rule of law is a complex system, but it is generally defined by four universal principles: the right of access to justice, the right to a fair trial, the right to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure, and the right not to be deprived of life or liberty without due process of law.
Its fundamental tenets are founded on natural law, a concept developed in Greece and Rome in the ancient world. The concept of the natural law is derived from the notion that human beings have certain natural, moral, and spiritual rights that must be protected from being trampled upon by others.
A country’s legal system can serve these purposes well or poorly. Some systems keep peace and maintain the status quo, while other systems oppress minorities or political opponents, suppress free speech, or promote social change in the wrong direction.
Some countries have a system of government that is based on a written or tacit constitution, which encodes the basic rights of its inhabitants and defines the powers and responsibilities of its authorities. It can also include a guarantee of certain rights against the exercise of those powers by the state itself.
Law has several special features that distinguish it from other sciences and disciplines. First, it is normative; in contrast to empirical science or economics, which are descriptive and causal.
Second, it is prescriptive; in contrast to sociology, which is normative but also descriptive.
Third, it is a system of judicial decision-making; in contrast to other systems of judicial decision-making, it is often based on precedent (Latin for “to stand by”), meaning that higher courts are bound by lower court decisions that bind them, assuring that similar cases reach the same results.
Fourth, it is a source of scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology; in addition, it raises questions concerning equality, fairness and justice.
The profession of law is regulated by laws and overseen by independent regulating bodies, such as the bar association or law society. Lawyers are specialized professionals who have distinct professional identities, which typically result from achieving a specific legal qualification, such as a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Civil Law or a Juris Doctor degree.