Law is a set of rules or principles created and enforced by society and government institutions in order to regulate human behaviour. It is a central subject of legal studies, philosophy, economics and sociology.
The precise definition of law varies from place to place and time, but generally it refers to the rules that govern the actions of humans and the way in which those actions should be conducted. In addition, it encompasses the formal means for resolving disputes that arise within a society, i.e. the court system.
There are a number of theories as to the nature and purpose of law. One theory is that it exists in order to protect the social values or beliefs that a society shares and which are binding upon all members of that society. Another theory is that law aims to provide justice (either distributive or corrective).
Another theory is that law relates to social control and order and it is designed to ensure that people do not hurt each other and that the property of others is not damaged. Finally, some have suggested that laws exist in order to help with moral development and to guide choices between good and evil.
The sources of law are the material from which it derives its content and authority. In modern law, the formal sources of law are statutes and judicial precedent. In other words, judges are bound to apply the law as it is written and as it has been interpreted in previous cases. Other material sources of law are foreign judgements, principles of equity and justice, professional opinions etc.
Legal systems are classified into a variety of categories including common law, civil law and canon law. Civil law jurisdictions, which cover about 60% of the world’s population, are based on Roman Law and may be supplemented or modified by local custom or culture. Common Law is an English legal system based on common traditions and precedents established in the courts over centuries.
Other legal systems are international law, immigration law and nationality law, family law, criminal law, property law and transactional law. There is also a growing field of study called legal ethics and the ethical issues which are raised by the practice of law.
There are many debates about the role of law in a democracy and there is an ongoing struggle to achieve balance between rights and duties. There are also ongoing debates about whether judges should be allowed to use their own sense of right and wrong when deciding on a case. Some believe that judges should be free to ignore the law if they feel it is unjust. Others argue that judges should follow the law exactly as it is written. There are also debates about whether the law should be aimed at all of humanity or only at certain groups of it. There are also a number of discussions about how the law should be changed or reformed in relation to contemporary issues such as globalisation, gender equality and environmental concerns.