Law is the body of rules and principles which govern a country or state, enforced by a political authority. It serves many purposes, including establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.
There are different forms of law, each based on the sources recognised as authoritative by law makers. Typical sources include laws passed by governments, codifications in constitutional and statute law, customs, and the courts’ decisions.
The legal system used in most countries around the world today is civil law, derived from the legal practice of the 6th-century Eastern Roman Empire. Unlike common law systems, which incorporate legislation and executive regulations, civil law is largely procedural. Decisions are not made by a professional class of lawyers, but rather by lay magistrates or judges who are chosen to decide disputes.
In many nations, government-created legal codes are also used to regulate the activities of businesses and to enact laws which protect consumers’ rights and interests. These include laws against price-fixing, monopolies and unfair competition.
These laws are often referred to as “competition law”, but they can also be classified under other more specific areas such as antitrust and business regulation. They cover issues such as the minimum amount of capital banks must hold, regulations on investment and best practice, and regulating companies that have a disproportionate impact on their local market.
Banking law sets minimum standards on the amounts of capital banks must hold and regulates their activities to protect against economic crises. These regulations are generally more stringent than those for other industries.
Property law involves issues such as ownership of land, possession of things attached to it and intangible rights such as shares or trademarks. It also covers issues such as mortgages, leases, licences and easements. Personal property, which includes movable objects such as computers and jewelry, and intangible rights such as patents and copyrights, is dealt with under intellectual property law, company law and trusts.
Another form of law is contract law. This covers agreements, which involve the exchange of goods, services or money between two parties. It also includes the rules governing contracts of all types, such as those between individuals, companies and governments.
Some other fields of law are more specific to a certain field of inquiry, such as medical law, which deals with health and safety. Others are more broader, covering matters such as family law or immigration.
The law is a complex field, encompassing a variety of methods and incorporating many special features that make it unique against the background of other sciences and disciplines. The first distinctive feature is that it is a normative science, not a descriptive or causal one.
This may lead to the tendency, encouraged by early 20th century movements like logical empiricism and American legal realism, to confuse uncertainty with indeterminacy. This is a mistake, because a legal interpretation begins with the question of how a particular provision contributes to the content of a law.