Law is a system of rules that a society or government develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. The term can also be used to refer to the profession of lawyers or judges, whose jobs involve advising people about their rights and representing them in court. The law is a complicated subject that encompasses many different areas of life, but can be broadly divided into three categories:
Criminal law deals with crimes such as murder, robbery and fraud, and the penalties for them. Civil law covers disputes between individuals, such as compensation for property damage or defamation of character. Laws that regulate the activities of a business or organisation are known as company law. These include the laws of trusts, companies Acts and statutory forms for property registration.
Commercial law is a broad area that includes insurance, bills of exchange and insolvency and bankruptcy laws. It can be traced back to the medieval Lex Mercatoria and the English common law of sales, but it now includes regulations on consumer protection and competition policy.
The law reflects the societal attitudes that influence its creation and application. Historically, there has been a difference between civil and common law systems; the former rely on written codes to consolidate and standardise legal concepts, while the latter are more flexible and are often based on precedent decided in court cases. Today, most countries use the civil law system.
There is no definitive definition of what the law actually comprises, but it can be roughly defined as a set of precepts that govern human behaviour. Its precise content is constantly changing and evolving. Its role is to protect the liberties of citizens and maintain social order, but it cannot compel people to behave in ways that are unfeasible or beyond their capabilities.
It is important to remember that the law is always a product of the societies and communities that create it, so its interpretation is subject to political and cultural factors. Despite this, there are several key principles which guide its development and implementation. These include the principle of utmost good faith, which requires all parties to act fairly and with integrity in their dealings. This is reinforced by the principle of due process, which guarantees that everyone involved in a case receives a fair trial. Similarly, the rule of precedent provides that judges should respect the rulings of previous cases. Finally, the principle of proportionality allows laws to be adjusted for different social contexts and circumstances. The law is a powerful instrument in the hands of its creators, but it has to be weighed carefully against the cost/benefit balance. As a result, it is not without its critics. However, it is an integral part of any modern society. It shapes politics, economics and history and provides the structure for relations between people. It also influences their attitudes and values, and plays a crucial role in a global economy.