Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate human behavior. There is a wide range of legal concepts, from civil law systems to religious laws.
The term law can also be used to describe a system of ethical principles that apply to individuals and societies, such as the rule of law, the right to privacy and the right to a fair trial.
In general, law aims to govern behaviour within a society to prevent and/or resolve conflicts of interest, ensure justice, protect rights and interests, and promote social order. A good example of this is the rule of law in a democracy.
A law is a written document, such as a statute or a code, that sets out the rules of conduct for a specific situation. It is often a summary of an agreement between two parties, but can be a complex and detailed set of regulations.
Custom is another form of law, which does not have to be written down. It is based on the common consciousness of a society. In other words, it has its roots in the Volkgeist and is superior to legislation (law).
Laws are enforceable by the state or through private agreements. They may be a statute, a court decision or an arbitration agreement.
Some forms of law are based on religion, including the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia. Other religions, such as Hinduism, follow their own legal traditions.
In most modern countries, the practice of law is regulated by a professional body. These bodies usually require a qualification, such as a legal education earning the student a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Civil Law, or a Juris Doctor degree.
The profession of law is a diverse and multidisciplinary field with many specialties. Examples of professional law include commercial law, employment and industrial law, intellectual property law, immigration law, labour law, maritime law, family law, environmental law, sports law and taxation law.
Generally, lawyers are governed by the laws of their own country and must follow strict professional rules to retain their license or membership in the bar. Lawyers may be employed by the government, private firms, or civil service.
Laws can be made by a group of legislatures or by a single legislator, and are established by judges through precedent in common law jurisdictions. Some laws are made directly by a government, such as the constitution or an executive decree. Others are made by private organizations, such as contracts or employment law.
In a democratic society, the rule of law is the basis of the constitutional order and a guiding principle for public policy. It requires accountability and integrity from both the government and the people, and it establishes a level playing field for all participants in a given society.
A common definition of the rule of law is that it is a set of four universal principles: equality, transparency, accessibility and impartiality. These principles guarantee that each person’s rights are protected, and that justice is delivered by competent, independent representatives and neutrals who are accessible, have adequate resources and reflect the makeup of a given community.