Law is a system of rules that a society develops to deal with things like crime, business agreements and social relationships. It’s also used to describe the practice of lawyers, who are trained in the study and interpretation of legal principles.
While the law can vary from country to country, most legal systems share some common features. These include:
A well-functioning law must be clear, publicized, stable and applied evenly. It must protect human rights and property, as well as contracts and procedural rights. It must be consistent and equitable, with the rules adjusted when needed by judicious interpretation and creative jurisprudence.
The rule of law is an important aspect of a democratic society, and it’s essential to achieving international peace and security, economic development and social justice. It ensures that all people, including government representatives and private citizens, are held accountable to the same law. It prevents abuse of power, curbs corruption, and provides protection for civil liberties.
While some laws are based on religious beliefs, others are secular. The law can also include customary law, which varies widely from place to place and is often based on longstanding local traditions that greatly shape ideas of justice. This type of law frequently becomes a function of tribal or village elders in countries that do not historically have a strong formal justice system, such as conflict or post-conflict states.
Law can also be divided into several different areas, including civil law, criminal law and tort law. Civil law deals with disputes between individuals, such as when two people claim the same piece of land. Criminal law deals with offenses against the state, such as robbery and murder. Tort law covers incidents involving injury to person or property, such as automobile accidents and defamation of character.
While the law can be changed by political leaders and voters, it can also be influenced by scholarly research and commentary. For example, Sir William Blackstone wrote a series of works on law that helped influence the Founding Fathers of the United States. He believed there was an objective moral order that was established by the law of nature and the law of revelation, which he called Scripture. This was a view shared by Thomas Aquinas and other medieval scholars. The concept of natural law was later rejected as a foundation for the law. For more on the history of law, see legal history. For articles on the relationship between the law and other aspects of society, see criminal justice; social service; and censorship. See also: law, philosophy of; legal training; and law, historical development of.