Law is a system of rules that a society or government develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. The term can also be used to describe specific branches of law, such as criminal law or civil law. Law may also refer to the profession of law, which includes lawyers and barristers.
It is not easy to give a precise definition of law. Different people have different ideas about what law is, and books containing numerous different definitions of law have been written. However, most writers agree that law is a set of rules that a state creates in order to ensure a peaceful society. These rules are then enforced, and sanctions can be imposed on people who break the law.
One key feature of law is that it is normative, which means that it sets out how people should behave in a particular circumstance. This is in contrast to the descriptive statements of empirical and social sciences (like the law of gravity) or of economics.
Another key feature of law is that it is coercive. This is because it involves the threat of sanctions against those who do not obey the law. However, the extent to which laws are coercive is a matter of judgement and the degree to which they impose restrictions on freedoms and rights will vary from country to country.
Laws may be created by governments, international bodies, corporations or individuals. Those which are created by the government are often called public law. Others, which are more private in nature, are known as private law. The scope of laws varies widely, and can cover everything from property to intellectual property to the regulation of certain activities.
For example, the legal system in a country may regulate the sale of weapons, or it might prohibit smoking in public places. The legal system in a country may also determine whether someone who commits a criminal offence will be sentenced to prison or not.
In addition, the law can dictate how much compensation an individual who is wronged by another person will receive if they sue that individual for damages. The law can also define the amount of tax that people must pay, and the way that companies can be legally governed.
The law may include a constitution, or it can be implied by the structure of a political system, which will influence its content. The way that the law is made and the way that it is applied can also change the meaning of the term. For instance, the phrase ‘law of the land’ can mean that a government has complete control over its territory, even though it does not have full sovereignty. The legal system can also be influenced by religious doctrines and moral values, as well as the traditions and customs of a culture. For more information, see constitution; ideology; jurisprudence; and legal profession.