Law is a system of rules that societies or governments develop in order to govern themselves and deal with issues such as crime, business agreements and social relationships. These rules are enforceable by a variety of institutions, such as police or government agencies, or by judicial review. A key element of law is that it must be consistent and fair, and this can be achieved by ensuring that judges interpret and apply the law in a non-discriminatory manner. The precise nature of law is a subject of long-standing debate, and its exact nature has varied over time.
Law is often thought of as a scientific or technical discipline, but it is also viewed as an art and a human enterprise. Law reflects the values, interests and concerns of society at large. It is a tool that shapes politics, economics and history in countless ways. It can be used to protect people, their property and even their lives. It can also be used to punish those who break the law.
Some laws are based on natural or divine principles, and these are known as “natural” or “positive” law. These include the law of gravity, which states that objects with equal mass fall at the same rate, and the Bible’s teaching that it is wrong to show partiality in judgment.
Other laws are based on human experience or interpretation. The most widespread examples of these are the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, which are derived from religious precepts, but are then further elaborated by scholars through the use of Ijma (consensus) and Qiyas (reasoning by analogy). These systems of law are known as “regulatory” or “common law” systems.
Still other laws are made and enforced by the state, resulting in statutes or constitutional provisions. These may be enacted by legislatures, a single legislator or executive decree, or established by judges through case law. Regulatory law sets standards for businesses and the public, such as those related to banking or environmental safety. It can also involve the regulation of certain activities that are considered essential to society, such as water or electricity.
The term law can also be used to refer to the profession of lawyers, which involves advising clients about legal matters and representing them in court. Other careers in the field of law are criminal justice, civil rights and corporate law. Law is also the subject of numerous academic disciplines, including criminology, philosophy and political science. These studies explore the development, enforcement and interpretation of laws in various societies and cultures.