The Basics of Law

Law is the set of rules that people follow to achieve fairness, order and security. These rules are enforced by a controlling authority, such as a government or monarch. The law influences politics, economics, history and society in many ways. A fundamental principle of the law is that it applies equally to all people, regardless of wealth or social class.

Some nations have different systems of law. They can be divided into common law and civil law systems. In common law countries, the laws are based on decisions made by judges in cases that go to trial. These decisions are then compiled into a body of laws called case law. The common law system also relies on a doctrine known as stare decisis, which means that previous case decisions bind future courts. In contrast, civil law countries rely on statutes that explicitly state the rules that judges must follow when making a decision in a case.

In most civil and common law countries, there are also laws governing the rights of property owners. Property law covers the ownership of tangible objects, such as land or buildings, and intangible items, like money, shares or bank accounts. Criminal law regulates the actions of people who break these laws and may require them to pay fines or be imprisoned.

Besides these areas, there are laws governing other aspects of life in a nation-state. Immigration and asylum law, for instance, deals with the right to live and work in a country that is not one’s own. Family law deals with marriage, divorce and rights to children. Tax law, which relates to business and money, is another important area of the law. Environmental and health law are also areas of the law that concern a nation-state’s citizens.

A lawyer, jurist or attorney is a professional who studies and argues the rules of the law. In the United States, there are two kinds of attorneys – “transactional” attorneys who write contracts and “litigators” who go to court. Lawyers in other countries may be called solicitors or barristers.

Law has evolved along with human civilizations. Early civilizations developed written documents, such as the Code of Hammurabi and the Babylonian legal codes. Later, people developed more complex legal theories, such as Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian philosophy and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s notion of natural law. These ideas have influenced modern law in many ways, including how laws are formulated, how they’re applied and the impact they have on society. Various fields of study have developed in relation to the law, such as criminal and constitutional law and comparative law. In the last few centuries, a growing number of philosophers and political scientists have focused on the role of the law in societies around the world.