Law is the body of rules which governs society and which people use to deal with crimes, business agreements, and social relationships. It also includes a system of legal professions which advise individuals, represent them in court or give decisions and punishments.
In most countries, law is a set of rules and principles based on laws which are arranged in codified forms called codes. These systems are designed to favour cooperation, order and predictability and to adapt to change, while also ensuring consistency with each other.
The most important areas of law are criminal, civil and regulatory. Each area deals with a different aspect of life.
Criminal law involves regulation of a person’s right to freedom and protection from harm. It is often linked to other areas of law such as family, property and intellectual property.
Commercial law covers the study of how businesses are run and regulated, such as trade practices, licensing laws, labour relations, taxation and financial regulation. In modern times, it has become common for governments to regulate private companies providing public services, such as water, electricity and gas.
Civil law refers to a more broad range of laws that cover all aspects of society, including rights and interests such as the environment, human rights, employment and consumer rights. These laws are usually arranged in codes which are easy to understand and follow by citizens, jurists and the general public.
Law is a complex subject which spreads far beyond the core subjects into virtually every area of life, and it can be confusing to people who are not experts in the field. It is therefore useful to think about the basic functions of law, whose main tasks include:
1. The maintenance of peace and the stability of the status quo in a nation (and in international law).
Laws are created and enforced by governments and people or groups with power over other governments. They are used to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities and promote social justice.
2. The protection of individuals from violence and other abuses by others such as crime, terrorism and sexual offenses.
These are the primary functions of law in a country, and some nations do a better job than others at performing these tasks.
3. The protection of individuals against fraud, scams and other deceptive activities by unscrupulous firms and people who are seeking to make money through such activity.
4. The protection of individuals from corruption and exploitation by other people, particularly by the State and its agencies.
5. The promotion of the rule of law and fairness in its application by government bodies, such as courts.
6. The protection of minorities from discrimination and persecution by the State or its agents.
In addition to the above definitions, a variety of other approaches have been developed to explain and define law. A well known example is William Hart’s concept of the prevailing rule of recognition in which legal officials must consider a variety of norms when determining whether a law has been proclaimed or established.