What Is Law?

Law is the set of rules and regulations that govern people in a particular place or society. Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways. It is a complex area of study and involves issues such as criminal, family, tax and employment laws as well as legal systems and major debates in legal theory.

In modern societies laws are usually written and enforced by governments, which are elected (chosen) by the people they govern to represent their interests and needs. Governments have broad power to make laws on all sorts of things, from the overall framework of a country (like the Constitution in the US) down to detailed rules on how people can behave and how businesses operate.

The law varies from place to place, reflecting local cultures and traditions as well as global influences. The law can be influenced by religion, ethnicity and social justice concerns. For example, a society may have strong religious or cultural prohibitions against lying and theft. Other societies might have laws that reflect a desire to maintain a stable economy or a balance between individual rights and collective welfare.

Most countries have a constitutional system, which sets out the overall structure of the country’s laws, with other laws made by parliaments or congresses that are elected to deal with specific areas of detail. Governments also have the power to change their laws and policies in order to adapt to new social or business developments.

Many countries have a mixture of different legal systems, including common law and civil law. In the past, European nations created legal systems in countries they colonised, which mainly reflected a blend of common and civil law elements.

In most legal systems, judges in court decide whether a statute or regulation is enforceable by interpreting its meaning. These decisions, known as judgments or verdicts, are binding on subsequent courts, a principle called stare decisis. Generally speaking, the higher the level of court that makes the decision, the more the judgment will be considered “law” that must be followed in future cases.

A common area of law is contract law, which defines a person’s rights and duties toward goods and services they receive. Another important area is property law, which sets out a person’s rights and duties to tangible possessions like land or buildings, as well as intangible items, such as money or shares in a company.

Environmental law is a growing area of concern, as the effects of human activities on the natural environment become more and more evident. In some nations, the protection of the environment is a matter of national pride and in others it is a central policy goal. In some jurisdictions, a large proportion of the nation’s environmental law is framed by international agreements and standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). In other countries, much of the nation’s environmental law is governed by state or local laws. Similarly, the rules of law differ from place to place in relation to immigration, foreign affairs and other matters.