Law is a system of rules and regulations that governs the lives of people in a society. It applies to both public and private entities and includes a wide range of subjects, such as contracts, property, etiquette and civil rights. Its purpose is to protect individuals from tyranny, injustice and other dangers that might harm them or others. It also serves to promote orderly social change and provide for economic prosperity. Some legal systems are more effective at these goals than others.
A legal system may be based on common law, civil law or a mixture of both. Common law is based on court decisions, while civil laws are derived from statutes and other sources such as constitutional provisions or executive orders. Both types of laws have their advantages and disadvantages.
The term “rule of law” means that both the government and private actors are accountable under a clear and publicized law, which is stable and is applied evenly. It ensures human rights as well as property, contract and procedural rights and is consistent with international standards and norms. It also requires that the processes by which law is adopted, administered, adjudicated and enforced are accessible, fair, efficient and timely, and that judges and other participants in justice have proper training, resources and reflect the demographics of the communities they serve.
Criminal laws are designed to deter crime by punishing those who commit crimes and protecting victims. They include statutes that define and penalize various crimes and establish the conditions of bail, the right to a trial by jury and other legal procedures. Some criminal laws are federal, whereas others are state or local.
A court of law consists of the judge and jurors who decide cases and the staff that supports them. The chief judge is the top administrative official in a court, while other judges are assigned to specific divisions or areas of law. Judges are often called on to act as referees in arbitration and mediation proceedings. A judicial assistant or clerk is responsible for case scheduling and for maintaining the records of cases. Those with greater skills and experience may be called on to give opinions or serve as consultants to other judges, attorneys or prosecutors.
Law is a complex subject, and there are many different fields of study. A few of the most important are:
Contract law deals with agreements that exchange goods or services. Property law establishes people’s rights and duties toward tangible property, such as real estate and personal property (i.e., movable objects such as cars and computers) and intangible property, such as shares and bank accounts. Tax law and financial regulation set minimum standards for the amount of capital banks must have, and for the way companies are run, to minimise the risk of a crash like that of 1929.
Other areas of law include space, environment and intellectual property, as well as the law of war, prisons, criminal procedure, immigration, corporations and labor relations.