Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Law is also a broad philosophical and ethical concept, encompassing issues of fairness, justice, morality and equality. It is the subject of much scholarly inquiry into the history of law, philosophy, social science and economic analysis.
Law encompasses a vast area of human activity, from interpersonal disputes to global conflict and war. In the context of human life, law is an essential element of society; it defines and shapes the rights of citizens, limits the powers of the state and promotes order. Law can be a powerful tool for advancing a society, but the precise nature of laws is debated.
Legal systems vary widely, but are usually classified as either common or civil law. In “civil law jurisdictions,” the main focus is on dispute resolution through the courts rather than by informal means such as arbitration. The main components of a civil law system are the laws on contracts, property and criminal procedure. Civil law is also the basis of the law of torts, which determines liability for injuries caused by negligent actions.
The common law, on the other hand, is based on case studies and judicial decisions rather than legislative statutes or executive decrees. It is the oldest form of law and is still used in many countries. It is a system that has been refined over the centuries through the use of legal maxims, compiled into books called brocards, and the development of court precedent known as stare decisis. It has provided the basis of much of modern international law, including the international conventions on civil and commercial law.
Both types of law have their strengths and weaknesses. Common law tends to be more flexible and allows judges to adapt the rules to changing circumstances through jurisprudence. It is, however, less certain than the civil law. In addition, it can be difficult to know whether a case is a common law or civil law one.
In criminal law, the common law approach tends to provide a clearer definition of what is unlawful, while civil law provides a more detailed set of rules and procedures. The common law also provides a more formal structure for cases, with panels of three judges hearing appeals and en banc trials consisting of all the judges of a court sitting together.
The differences in legal systems are a result of different political histories and cultural traditions, and the way in which a society perceives the relationship between its people and the rule of law. Ultimately, it comes down to who has the power to make and enforce laws, and to ensure that those laws are upheld. Those with military or economic influence, for example, often have the most control over law-making and enforcement. This can lead to the emergence of authoritarian regimes, even in nations with strong democracies. However, revolts against existing government power, in an attempt to achieve greater democracy or more rights for its citizens, are a constant feature of human history.