Law is a set of rules that society or government develops in order to deal with issues such as crime, business agreements and social relationships. The term is also used to describe the people who work in this system.
A nation’s law serves multiple purposes: to maintain peace and the status quo, to promote justice and individual rights, and to provide for orderly social change. Some legal systems do these better than others. For example, a legal system of an authoritarian state may keep the peace but it might oppress minorities or prevent social justice. In contrast, a constitutional democracy might serve all these functions more successfully.
There are several types of law: civil, criminal and administrative. Civil law is the law used by most of the world’s governments today. It is based on legislative statutes (i.e. laws passed by legislatures) and on judges’ decisions. Judges’ decisions are based on precedent and the principle of stare decisis (“to stand by previous decisions”).
Criminal law is the branch of law that deals with crimes such as murder and larceny. It includes all the procedures that are involved in prosecuting a case, including arraignment (where the accused is brought into court to be told of the charges against him or her) and trial by jury.
Administrative law, on the other hand, deals with the way a government agency functions. This includes the law of constitutional, statutory and regulatory development and the law of evidence.
Other types of law include property and labour laws. The former concerns ownership and possession of real estate and personal property, including the statutory systems for land registration, the law of contracts and easements. The latter includes a wide range of regulations on movable goods, intellectual property and trusts.
In addition, there are laws governing the behaviour of public officials, such as parliamentarians, ministers and governors. This covers the conduct of such public figures and their duties to the state. The law is also applied to the conduct of private citizens, which is usually the subject of civil and criminal litigation.
Law is a complex area from a methodological point of view, because it is normative as well as prescriptive. Normative statements in law are those that prescribe how a person ought to behave, whereas prescriptive statements are those that impose a duty on an individual. This makes law a different kind of science from physics or sociology. The precise nature of law is therefore difficult to describe. Nevertheless, there are certain characteristics that all laws share. Laws are usually formulated by government or other legislative bodies, and they may be binding or non-binding. A good law is clear, publicly available and stable. Its processes are fair and transparent, and it ensures property and contract rights as well as fundamental human rights. This law is also enforced evenly and by a judicial body that is independent of the executive or the legislature. It should also reflect the makeup of a society.