Law is a body of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in many different ways. A major focus of study for scholarly inquiry is the nature and value of law, especially in the areas of its form and function.
The study of law includes legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. It also raises questions about equality, fairness and justice. Law is a subject of considerable controversy and debate in contemporary politics.
Even in well-ordered societies people disagree and disputes arise. The law provides a means to resolve these conflicts peacefully. For example, if two people claim ownership of a piece of land the law can decide who really owns it. In addition to settling disputes, the law helps protect individual rights, ensures orderly society and keeps the government accountable.
Some laws restrict freedoms and others impose obligations. The extent to which a system of law is legitimate depends on whether it complies with international human rights norms and standards, which are based on principles such as supremacy of the law, equal enforcement, accountability of the state and individuals to the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and transparency. The rule of law has emerged as a key concept for understanding these issues, and is a topic of much discussion and debate.
A major area of law is the law of nations. This involves a complex interaction between nation states, which have differing levels of responsibility for the maintenance of peace, preservation of minorities against majorities, the protection of property and the promotion of social change. Many scholars have reshaped thinking about this relationship as a result of developments such as terrorism and war, globalisation, privatisation and the rise of multi-national corporations.
Other important areas of law include constitutional law, civil rights, criminal law and family law. Constitutional law concerns the legal framework within which a nation functions, civil rights involve the protection of citizens from discrimination, criminal law deals with conduct considered harmful to society, and family law relates to relationships between members of a household or community.
Other subjects of interest in the study of law include administrative law, which concerns the way a country is run, and evidence law, which concerns which materials are admissible in court cases. A separate field is the study of the legal profession, which includes lawyers and judges. This includes the debate over whether a legal career is suitable for women and people of colour, and a separate issue concerns the composition of courts, especially those that hear high-profile criminal trials. The latter issue is the subject of an ongoing political controversy called “misconduct” or “impeachment”. In the US, this process involves a trial by a committee of the House of Representatives on accusations against senior government officials. In other countries, it’s a procedure for trying a criminal case. In both instances, the trial is conducted in public.