Law is a set of rules, either written or unwritten, that governs people’s actions and relationships. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in many different ways. It includes the system of regulating businesses and the rules that determine which materials are admissible in court cases. It may also refer to the body of laws and regulations governing a specific area of the country, such as property, family or environmental law. Law can be enforced by the government or private individuals, and it is usually based on tradition, culture or religion.
A law may be a constitution or a legal code that defines people’s rights and obligations. It may cover topics as diverse as the rights of children or the punishment for rape. It is often based on social customs and habits, but some laws are explicitly derived from religious books or beliefs such as the Jewish Halakha, Islamic Sharia, or Christian canon law. Immigration law, nationality and human rights are other examples of laws that are rooted in cultural customs or faith-based beliefs.
Legal systems vary around the world, but most countries have a judiciary to resolve disputes and punish criminals. These bodies, referred to as courts or tribunals, include judges who make decisions based on evidence and arguments presented to them by lawyers called litigants. These judges decide whether someone who has been charged with a crime is guilty or not and can remove laws that go against a constitution or other established principles.
There are numerous areas of law, such as contracts, property, employment, family and biolaw. Each of these has a broad range of sub-fields and subtopics. Contract law regulates agreements to exchange goods or services and can include anything from a simple sales contract to a complex options trading agreement on the derivatives market. Property law covers people’s rights and duties toward their tangible possessions, including real property (land) or personal property like a computer or car.
Business and tax law is another branch of law that has many subtopics, including the rules that govern business transactions and companies and the rules about how much people must pay to use public utilities such as water or electricity. Employment law deals with the three-way relationship between an employer, worker and trade union and entails issues such as health and safety regulations and the right to strike.
The common law is a type of legal system in which courts are not bound by precedent and can, with extraordinary justification, reinterpret and revise the law to reflect changing social, political and legal philosophy. Its flexibility allows law to change gradually rather than abruptly and reduce the disruption that would occur if the entire legal system were changed all at once. It is a key component of democratic governance, as it enables people to influence how laws are made and the decisions that are taken by their representatives.