Law is the body of rules that govern social behavior and the institutions that enforce them. It is a complex and often controversial topic, whose precise definition is a subject of much debate.
It can be defined as “the rules of a society that govern the way people and organizations behave”. The most common types of laws are traffic laws, seat belt laws, school bus laws, and property laws, which regulate everything from buying a ticket on a bus to trading options on a derivatives market.
In a society, the law can keep the peace and maintain a status quo; preserve individual rights; protect minorities against majorities; promote social justice; and provide for orderly social change. Some legal systems are better at achieving these goals than others.
For example, common law systems such as that of the United States are based on a system of precedent or “stare decisis”, whereby decisions by higher courts bind lower courts to make sure that similar cases reach the same results. This has led to the idea of a rule of law, which is that all people should be treated equally before the law and that courts should act on that basis.
There are many different branches of law, some of which include:
Contract law – the legal rules that govern contracts between individuals or businesses. It involves a variety of agreements, including business deals, marriages and divorces.
Family law – the legal rules that govern relationships between individuals and their families. It includes a wide range of issues, from child custody and support to inheritances and estates.
Property law – the legal rules that govern possessions such as homes and cars. It also covers debtor’s rights to a home’s mortgage and other debt obligations.
Consumer law – the legal rules that govern a person’s rights to be protected against unfair or misleading practices by businesses, such as those related to health, safety, or environmental protection. It involves a variety of matters, from the terms of an insurance policy to the availability of free medical care.
Competition law – the legal rules that govern competition in a given market or sector, such as airlines, energy or pharmaceuticals. It traces its roots to Roman decrees against price fixing and English restraint of trade doctrine.
Religion plays an important role in the formation of laws, both through religious precepts and human elaboration of law. Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia are examples of religion-based law, while Christian canon law survives in some church communities. Most religious jurisdictions rely on further human elaboration, such as interpretation, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent, to create thorough and detailed legal systems.
The rule of law is a fundamental tenet of any society, and it is the foundation for international peace and security, development and democracy. The rule of law is vital to ensuring that all individuals have access to public services, that corruption is curbed and that the state acts as a check on abuse of power.