Law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate. A common definition includes the idea that law establishes standards, maintains order, enables free and fair competition, and protects individual rights and freedoms. It also consists of the concepts of accountability, transparency, and equal access to justice.
The word “law” comes from the Latin lege, meaning “to teach,” or “to govern”. It is used to describe any set of principles governing behavior, including a system of criminal or civil punishments, or a body of rules dictating what a person must do or not do in particular circumstances. It is also used to refer to a certain body of rules or legal concepts that are enforceable by an authority, such as the constitution or the charter of a company or a government.
In common law systems, decisions by courts are explicitly acknowledged as law, placed on the same footing as statutes passed through a legislative process and regulations issued by an executive branch. This enables the doctrine of stare decisis to function, a principle which holds that decisions made by lower courts will be largely bound by rulings of higher courts. In contrast, in civil law systems, legislative statutes are more detailed, and judicial rulings are shorter and less detailed.
The field of law encompasses a vast number of sub-topics, many of which overlap and intertwine. Space law, for example, covers the international legal aspects of human activities in Earth orbit and outer space, while tax law concerns the responsibilities of people, companies and organisations for their use of public resources and utilities, such as energy, water and communications. Banking and financial regulation sets minimum standards for banks to maintain, and for their capital to be held, in order to safeguard against the risk of economic crises such as the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
Law is also an important subject for study at school and university, and there are numerous career paths for those who graduate with a degree in this area. A lawyer may choose to specialise in one of these subjects, for example family law or corporate law. A lawyer can also be known as a barrister or judge, and there are prestigious titles to earn such as Esquire (to signify a member of the legal profession of greater dignity) and Doctor of Laws.
There are a number of ways that individuals can engage with the law, including through advocacy and lobbying. For those interested in changing the law, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of how the system works. This will help ensure that any future reforms are effective, fair and logical. It will also enable citizens to engage in informed discussions with politicians about how the system could be improved. These discussions should take place in a way that promotes the four universal principles of the rule of law.