Law is a system of rules that governs people’s behaviour and is enforced through penalties by a controlling authority. The term also describes the profession of those who work in law, including judges, lawyers and police officers. Law is an essential part of any society and covers a wide range of topics. For example, contract law regulates agreements between people to exchange goods or services, while property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible properties like land or buildings or movable items such as clothes, books or cars and even intangible things such as shares and bank accounts. Criminal law punishes people who break laws set by government agencies, while administrative law concerns the processes that courts follow when dealing with cases and appeals.
Some nations use a common law system, where legal principles are derived from the decisions of judges in cases that come to trial. This differs from other systems that use civil law, which codifies legal principles in legal codes and does not treat judicial opinions as binding.
Many legal issues involve complex considerations about the proper balance of power between a governing authority and individual citizens. These include the extent to which a governing authority can act without restraint in protecting individual freedoms, and whether core human, procedural and property rights are adequately enshrined. The extent to which a governing authority can justify its actions through a free and independent press, and the degree to which it is transparent about its decision-making, are also important legal questions.
The field of law also encompasses the role of the judiciary in a democracy, and the various branches of government that have responsibility for making law, enforcing it and regulating certain activities. Constitutional law is concerned with the fundamental rights that a nation’s governing body must protect, and relates to matters such as the separation of powers between different parts of a national government.
Law can also refer to the fields of human rights, social justice and environmental regulation. Law can also be seen as a social science, and is studied in universities and colleges worldwide, with students graduating with qualifications such as Bachelor of Laws or Doctor of Law. For more information, see the article on legal education and training. Articles on the legal profession and career can be found at the articles on lawyer; barrister; solicitor; paralegal; and legal secretary. For a discussion of the relationship between law and other social sciences, see the article on sociology of law. For more on the relationship between law and politics, see the article on political system; ideology; and political party. For other related articles, see the category on religion and ethics; and history of law.