Law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate. It has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice. The concept of law is fundamental to many fields such as anthropology, history, philosophy and political science and provides the basis for a large body of scholarly inquiry and analysis.
Law governs the relationship between people and a variety of entities including individuals, groups, organizations and businesses. It can be formalized by a constitution, as in the case of a country with a written constitution, or it can exist through custom and practice, as in the case of the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia. In addition, it can be explicitly based on religious precepts, as in the case of the Jewish Torah and Islamic Quran.
In most nation-states (as countries are called in international law), the laws made and enforced are the result of political action. Consequently, the politics that shape law vary widely from place to place. There are, however, a few basic elements that distinguish law from other forms of human elaboration:
The first element is that, to be legally binding, a rule must be enforceable. This means that the rule must be sufficiently clear and comprehensive to allow for a meaningful judicial interpretation. The second aspect is that to be legal, a rule must not conflict with other governing laws and must be consistent. In the case of a legal dispute, this means that it must be applied in a fair and impartial way to all parties involved. The third element is that to be a legal rule, it must be backed up by a source of authority. Generally, this source of authority is a legislative body, which results in statutes, or a judiciary body, which results in court decisions and the development of case law.
A rule is also a legal rule if it is a consequence of natural, physical or human events, for example the law of gravity. Such a rule is called a fact because it can be proven by experimentation or observation. It is in contrast to a principle, which is a general statement about how things work or must be in certain circumstances, such as the law of gravity or the law of supply and demand.
The most commonly recognized branches of law are criminal and civil. Criminal law deals with conduct that is considered harmful to society and which may be punished by a government. Civil law deals with disputes between private individuals. For example, tort law provides compensation to individuals when they have been harmed by another’s actions such as an automobile accident or defamation of character. A large part of the field of law also involves regulating business activity, for example taxation law and banking law. In addition to this, law also encompasses a wide range of specialties such as family law, labour law and intellectual property law.