Law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is subject to debate, but is often referred to as an “art” and a “science.” The term can also refer to the profession of lawyers or judges who study systems of law and govern societies.
Generally, the law is meant to create order by establishing standards, maintaining peace, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. However, some legal systems serve these purposes more effectively than others. For example, authoritarian governments may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but they may oppress minorities and limit individual freedoms and property rights (as in Burma or Zimbabwe).
The legal system typically is derived from the constitution or from a body of laws known as a code. It is based on the belief that laws should be interpreted and applied consistently to protect individuals from injustice and promote prosperity. These laws can be written, oral, or a combination of both and can cover a wide range of topics. Examples include criminal laws, civil rights, administrative laws, and tort laws. The law can also cover issues of international and regional trade, environmental laws, human rights, and corporate governance.
According to Blackstone, “judges are the depositories of the law, and they must decide every case according to it; their decision must be the same in all cases, even though the facts of each might differ” and that “their determination should not be changed unless it be made upon clear and sufficient evidence.” This view of the law was shared by Sir Edward Coke and Bracton and is considered the foundation of the Common Law.
Traditionally, the law has been viewed as a complex mixture of enforceable rules and principles that are interpreted and applied by an independent judiciary, rather than an elected or appointed legislature. This tradition continues in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Law can be defined in a variety of ways, but the most important factor is that it has the force of a contract or agreement between two parties. Laws can be either positive or negative, and can be applied in the context of a specific place or a whole region. For example, tort laws protect people from being injured or having their property damaged by the negligence of others, while contracts regulate the exchange of goods and services and can apply to a large number of activities.
The laws of a particular jurisdiction are determined by its constitution, statutes, regulations, and case law. The constitutional and statutory laws are sometimes called the “law of the land.” The law can be a reflection of a culture’s values, its morality, and its sense of justice. It can also be a reflection of its political structure and the nature of its economy. It can also be influenced by the international community, as demonstrated by the influence of the law of the European nations on many African nations and the existence of French civil law on some Pacific islands.