Law is a set of rules and policies regulating activities such as contracts, property ownership, criminal behavior, and war. It is also a field of study that encompasses the philosophy, history, and practice of legal systems. Law is important for people in many ways, including establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving conflicts, and protecting rights and liberties. Law is important because it can create and protect social order, provide a framework for relationships between individuals and between nations, and allow a level of freedom that would not be possible without it.
The term law is derived from Latin “lex”, meaning “the rule,” and the suffix -logy, meaning “the study of.” As a discipline, law studies how these rules are interpreted, adapted, and enforced in different contexts. It is an interdisciplinary field that combines elements of history, philosophy, religion, political science, and economics. Its practitioners, called jurists, apply the principles of the law to a particular case or situation and decide the outcome. A legal system is a specific set of rules, policies, and procedures that governs the conduct of people within a given jurisdiction. It is usually established by the state and binds its citizens, businesses, and organizations. It may also regulate the behavior of private entities, such as churches.
For example, laws can be made to prohibit the wearing of certain items in public or require that a business register its location and address with the local government. They can also establish a procedure for resolving disputes, such as arbitration or conciliation. These processes are necessary for creating and sustaining a society that can function efficiently and fairly.
Whether the law is created by man or God, it must be consistent with natural law. This concept of the law, based on the principles of nature and revelation (Scripture), was developed by Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) in his Commentaries on the Law of England. His view of the types of law was influential among the Founding Fathers and continues to shape our legal system today.
There are a number of different types of law systems, based on the historical and cultural heritage of countries or regions. Civil law systems, based on the Roman-Dutch law of Europe and supplemented by some influence from canon law, are found throughout the world. These legal traditions are sometimes augmented by customary law, Islamic law, or Jewish law.
The status of legal rights in a law system is typically determined by the manner in which they are granted or bestowed. Some rights are granted passively, determining what the right-holders ought to do (privilege-right) or can do (power-right). Others are actively forged, resulting in what is known as Hohfeldian positions: claims, privileges, powers, immunities, and so on. Typically, rights that are legally valid are those that flow from other laws or sources of law, such as statutes and judicial decisions (Lyons 1970; Sumner 1987). A claim-right to be immune from persecution hardly seems like a legal right at all.