Law is the system of rules that governs a society, nation or group. It sets out standards for human behaviour and provides a framework that ensures peace, maintains order and resolves disputes. It protects people’s liberties and rights and deters harmful or criminal activities. Law differs across societies, so it is difficult to give a precise definition of the concept. However, a common theme emerging from many books and debates is that the law exists to serve four main functions: setting standards; maintaining order; resolving disputes and protecting liberty and rights.
The legal system of a country varies from one society to another, but it consists of the courts, judges, and government officials. It also includes all the professions which deal with advising on or defending legal cases, representing clients and giving decisions.
Defining the laws of a nation or region is complicated because they are often influenced by the culture and beliefs of those who inhabit it. This is particularly true in the case of religious law, which is influenced by the religious teachings of various faiths. A legal system is also influenced by the political structure of a country; for example, the constitution of a country dictates how it is governed.
A definition of the law may also depend on the philosophical viewpoint from which it is viewed. For example, the classical idea of natural law posits that there are universal principles which humans should obey. In contrast, modern philosophy of science rejects this, embracing instead a scientific method of experimentation and objectivity. This method tries to ensure that all experiments are conducted under the same conditions, thereby allowing all experimenters to obtain the same results. This approach is a major source of disagreement between the scientific and judicial communities as to what constitutes the law.
Legal systems are a major source of scholarly interest, and they provide material for debate in the fields of history, philosophy, sociology and economic analysis. The laws of different nations can be compared with each other, and legal studies include historical development, legal theory, comparative law and international law.
The subject of law is vast and covers virtually every aspect of human life. Some of its subjects are specialised, such as space law (which addresses the rights of individuals in outer space) and family law (which deals with marriage and divorce proceedings). Other areas of law are general, such as labour law, which encompasses a tripartite relationship between employer, worker and trade union; administrative law; and evidence law, which concerns the laws governing what can be used in court cases. There is also a large field of international law, which addresses relations between nations and their citizens.