Law is a system of rules or codes that govern people’s behavior and protect their freedoms and rights. It is enforced by police or courts. People who violate laws may be punished with fines or prison. The precise nature of the law differs from nation to nation. Law is a complex subject. It has many different purposes and functions, but the four principal ones are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.
Laws can be imposed by a group legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive, resulting in decrees and regulations; or by judges through precedent, resulting in common law. The latter are often more flexible and less formal than statutory laws, and are used to resolve disputes where there is no clear-cut answer.
There are many fields of law, encompassing all aspects of human life. These include family, criminal and civil law, business law, taxation, corporate and commercial law. In addition, there are many types of international law.
For example, labour law is the study of a tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union. It includes a range of topics, from wage regulation to the right to strike. Consumer law includes everything from unfair contract terms and clauses to airline baggage regulations. Competition law is the study of the monopolies and cartels that distort market prices to the detriment of consumers.
Banking law and financial regulation set minimum capital requirements and rules on best practice in banking and investment to reduce the risk of crises such as the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Environmental law deals with the protection of wildlife and the environment from humans, and also from pollution by businesses.
The aims of law are to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and that property is protected. In addition, law serves to keep the peace and maintain social stability. However, some laws are unjust or oppress minorities (see censorship; crime and punishment; government).
Laws are created by governments, whether they be democratic, authoritarian or dictatorial, and are usually written by groups of politicians in a legislature. In some countries, the law is also voted on by the people, through elections. In a democratic country, the law is changed regularly to reflect new social trends and changes in technology.
Individuals who make and enforce laws are called lawyers or jurists. Lawyers are trained to advise people about legal issues and represent them in court. A career in law can be very lucrative. People who wish to become lawyers must have high qualifications and pass rigorous examinations, which are often conducted by universities and bar associations. Lawyers are given honorific titles, such as Esquire and Doctor of Law, to signify their status and level of education. Lawyers can specialize in particular fields, such as corporate or criminal law. They can also choose to specialise in certain kinds of cases, such as divorce or immigration. Some lawyers work as private practitioners, while others are employed by the public prosecuting service or the local district attorney’s office.