Law is a system of rules that governs the behaviour of members of a society or group. It is enforced by a controlling authority and provides a framework to ensure a peaceful society and allows sanctions to be imposed if the laws are broken. Different societies have different legal systems and opinions about what the law should be vary widely. This has led to the publication of many books with differing views about what the law is, but there are a number of common themes that appear.
The purpose of the law is to protect people, their property and their freedom. It may also be used to achieve social justice, which is a broad concept that could include protecting minorities from majorities or providing for orderly social change. In addition, laws are used to promote economic growth and welfare. This includes laws that regulate banks, limit lending rates, set minimum capital requirements and impose social responsibility on private companies doing public service jobs such as water supply or power distribution.
A wide variety of laws exist, covering everything from intellectual property and company law to the laws governing medical jurisprudence. There are also many special fields of law, such as aviation law, employment law and tax law. Some fields of law are based on principles that are religious or moral in nature. For example, family law is concerned with the relationship between a spouse and children and may include child support and visitation rights. Employment law concerns the tripartite relationship of employer, employee and trade union and involves collective bargaining and the right to strike.
Laws are created and enforced by governments, although there is a wide variation in the extent to which they do this, especially between nations. Some states, particularly those with authoritarian government, do not fulfil the main functions of the law. Others, however, are quite stable and allow citizens to live in peace with each other and with the natural environment.
The precise definition of the term ‘law’ is open to debate, but it generally refers to any system of rules that have been imposed by a controlling authority. This might be a sovereign state, an ad hoc group such as a jury or a court of law. The rules might be written, as in a statute or constitution, or unwritten, as in the case of common law. In the latter case, there are certain conventions that are regarded as ‘law’, such as the principle of equality between men and women or the prohibition on bribery. These conventions are not binding on all states. However, many of the laws that are binding on all states are derived from custom and tradition, rather than statutory law. These are often referred to as customary law or traditional law.