Law is the study of the rules that govern a particular society. It involves the judicial system, which is used to ensure that people follow these rules and that they are punished when they break them.
The word law comes from the Latin word legitimus, which means “rules of the law” or “law-making body”. It is a sphere of social and political activity that determines and regulates the behavior of individuals.
Several branches of law exist, each dealing with a particular subject. Contract law, for example, is concerned with regulating transactions between two parties. Property law, which defines rights and duties with regard to tangible goods and intangible properties like bank accounts, is another important branch.
Legal systems vary widely around the world. They are rooted in local traditions and regional variations, which often combine aspects of civil law, common law and customary law.
There are a few common characteristics in any legal system: (1) it is written or codified; (2) the sources of authority recognized as authoritative are legislation–especially enacted statutes–and custom; (3) the rule of law is clear, publicized and stable, and applied evenly and consistently; (4) the processes by which laws are adopted, administered, adjudicated, and enforced are accessible, fair and efficient; and (5) justice is delivered timely and fairly by competent, ethical, and independent representatives and neutrals who reflect the makeup of their communities.
In some societies, such as Islam, a religion’s precepts form the basis of a legal system that is unalterable by either governments or judges. These systems are known as Islamic Sharia or Fiqh.
Religious laws are explicitly based on religious precepts, with a few exceptions. The Jewish Halakha, Islamic Sharia and Christian canon law are all examples of this.
Law has a complex relationship to politics, both at the national level and international levels. Nations vary from highly stable to extremely unstable, and many struggle with the question of whether a government can exercise the necessary power to create and enforce law.
Historically, many governments have been unstable and corrupt, resulting in lawless states that have a difficult time serving the basic functions of law and protecting their citizens from injustice. Revolutions are often fought by groups seeking to establish democratic rule, or greater rights for their people.
There are also times when an individual or group takes control of the government, establishing their own lawmaking body. This is usually called a dictatorship.
The political landscape of any country is greatly influenced by its history, culture and economic conditions. This influences how a government makes and enforces its laws.
Modern lawyers gain their distinct professional identity by securing a qualification to practice (a degree, such as a law school or a Bachelor of Laws or a Juris Doctor). They are regulated and maintained by either a government or an independent regulating body such as a bar association or a law society.
Law is an essential component of modern civilization, providing a framework for the proper distribution of goods and privileges and burdens within a society. It is also an important mediator between the various social groups and interests that inhabit it, helping to shape a society’s values and ideals.