Law is a system of rules that governs the behavior and relationships of people in a society. Law has many branches and is a complex subject. It can be categorized in three broad areas, though these categories intertwine and overlap:
The core subjects of Law include civil rights, criminal justice, and social and commercial law. Civil rights involve the protection of citizens from discrimination, the right to a fair trial, and other civil liberties. Criminal justice includes the punishment of those who commit crimes, such as murder and rape. Commercial law encompasses contracts and other agreements, property, and business matters. Social and civil justice deal with the rights and responsibilities of citizens in society, including marriage, divorce, and child custody proceedings. The core principles of law are the rule of law, due process, and equal treatment under the law.
Other branches of law cover specialized areas of societal activity and human interaction. Immigration and nationality law regulate the rights of foreigners to live and work in a nation-state that is not their own, to acquire or lose citizenship, and to seek asylum. Labor law involves the regulation of the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer, and trade union. Tort law covers compensation for damages caused by others, such as auto accidents or defamation. Governmental law covers the activities and responsibilities of a nation-state, such as public services and utilities such as water, energy, and telecommunications.
These various fields of Law are regulated by judges, lawyers, and other professionals who practice law. Law also encompasses the rules and procedures of a courtroom, such as evidence law, which determines what types of materials are admissible in a case.
Ultimately, Law reflects the culture and politics of a society. Its precise definition is a matter of debate and varies widely from one country to the next, with some nations relying on a written constitution while others depend on a combination of traditions, custom, and judicial precedent. Whether a society’s laws are democratic or authoritarian, however, they serve four fundamental purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights.
In the modern world, laws are usually created and enforced by a government, but they can also be established by religious institutions and other social groups. A fundamental component of law is the concept of authority, which involves knowing who has the power to make and enforce laws. Those with political or military power typically have control over law, but each year there are revolts against existing political-legal authority, often in the form of demands for greater rights for citizens. Moreover, law is not an empirical science like biology or mathematics, but instead a normative discipline that dictates how people should behave, not what they should do. This makes law unique among all the disciplines.