A body of rules imposed by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior and enforced by controlling authorities. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, with law described as both a science and the art of justice. Law may be enacted by a legislative assembly, creating statutes; established by the executive through decrees and regulations; or created by judges through precedent, particularly in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements as alternatives to standard court litigation.
The scope of law is wide, with a great variety of different types of laws being practiced around the world. The study of law is often complex, as it requires consideration of the context in which the law is created and applied, as well as the underlying values that are being upheld. The scholarly study of law encompasses a broad range of disciplines, from political science to philosophy to economics and history, all of which contribute to a deeper understanding of the role of law in society.
Many books have been written on the topic of law, and the discussion is ongoing. For example, the issue of whether judges should be above politics is one that has generated much debate and has led to some interesting theories on the subject.
Another interesting discussion concerns the extent to which law incorporates morality. Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham defined law as “commands, backed by the threat of sanctions, from a sovereign, to which people have a habit of obedience.” Others, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, advocated the concept of natural law, which he believed to reflect unchanging moral principles.
The law is a vital part of any society, and it influences the way that societies are structured, governed, and ruled. Its governing principles are usually based on some form of constitution or a set of basic rights encoded in a legal system. The legal profession is important in the field of law, as is legal education and the legal system.
Other aspects of the law include civil and criminal laws, family and marriage, international law, and even a form of biolaw that applies to medical jurisprudence. The law can be applied in a range of situations, including censorship, crime, and the military. It is an essential part of a modern economy, and it can be used as a tool for economic development, social justice, and global governance. For more on the subject, see law and society; jurisprudence; legal ethics; and constitutional law. Also see law of war; terrorism; and legal aid.