Law is a set of rules that people and their governments create and enforce to deal with things like crime, business agreements and social relationships. A person who studies and applies the laws is called a lawyer, jurist or attorney, and there are different kinds of lawyers who specialize in various fields. The legal system is a huge area of study, covering everything from criminal law and tax law to international law and family law.
The law is usually created by a group of judges and their decisions are often based on evidence presented to them at trial. Those who break the law can be punished by the government through fines or prison sentences. The purpose of the law is to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect people’s liberties and rights. Different countries and different political systems have their own laws that serve these purposes differently. For example, an authoritarian regime may keep the peace and maintain stability but it can also oppress minorities and limit social change.
Usually, the law is made up of many different fields and areas of expertise, such as contract law, tort law and property law. Each of these areas covers different things, such as the ability to sue if someone makes a false statement about you in a lawsuit (tort law), or the rights that people have to their tangible property and possessions (property law). Contract law covers anything from buying a bus ticket to making a contract on a stock market.
The law also includes things that govern people’s relationship to the environment, such as environmental law and natural resources laws. Other fields of the law include intellectual property law, which protects the rights that people have to their art, music and literature by a kind of law called copyright, and trust law, which deals with the rules about money that is put into an investment, such as pension funds that people save up for their retirement.
Some of the most important aspects of the law are ethics and morality, which are usually based on religious beliefs and books such as the Jewish Talmud and the Christian Bible (canon law). The ‘natural school’ of thought is another source of the law, with its belief that it is a product of culture and customs, and therefore should be accepted by everyone:
There are also a number of different theories about the nature of the law, including the ‘pure theory’ of Hans Kelsen, who believes that it is a normative science and does not describe what must happen, but defines certain rules to abide by. This is different from the ‘natural law’ theory that asserts that morality is a gift from God and must be obeyed. Law is an important part of a society and there are many articles in the Encyclopedia that cover it in more detail. See also constitutional law; criminal law; legal history; and the Law in general. The Law is a great reference tool for students and researchers alike!