Law is a system of rules and principles that governs human activity. It provides a framework for civilized behavior and serves as a source of scholarly inquiry in areas such as philosophy, sociology and economic analysis. Law is also a topic of international debate and concern as it relates to global issues such as the environment, development and poverty.
Most theorists agree that law is an instrument for securing social justice. This is considered to be one of the most fundamental functions of law in a society. Laws provide a means to settle disputes between individuals or groups and prevent individuals from harming each other. In a democratic state, all citizens have the right to have their grievances heard by an impartial tactic such as a judge or jury.
The laws of a jurisdiction are created through a combination of statutes, case law and constitutional doctrine. Statutes are legal codes passed by a legislature, and they set out the rights, duties, penalties, etc. that can be enforced by the courts and government agencies. Case law is a system where judges use the decisions and rulings of earlier court cases to help decide how other cases in similar situations should be decided. The decision of a higher court, such as a country’s supreme court, is binding on lower courts in that jurisdiction. Constitutional doctrine establishes the basic values and guiding principles of a law, such as its purpose, scope and limitations.
Some of the main branches of law include contract law, tort law and property law. Contract law regulates agreements between people, such as contracts for the sale of goods and services. Tort law covers the compensation that may be awarded when someone is harmed, whether through an accident or defamation of character. Property law defines the rights and duties of people toward their tangible possessions, such as houses and cars, as well as their intangible assets, like bank accounts or shares of stock.
Other branches of law include family law, immigration and nationality laws, social security laws and criminal law. Criminal law covers conduct that is deemed harmful to the social order, such as first degree murder and treason, and it requires the guilty party to be punished by the court. Immigration and nationality laws cover the rights of people who live in a country other than their own to acquire citizenship or lose it.
Despite its central role in human life, law is a complex and controversial subject. Different philosophers have formulated many theories on the nature of law and its functions. One theory is called neo-realist, which explains that law is a tool for harmonizing conflicting social interests. The neo-realist view also says that the law is constantly evolving to meet new needs in society. Another theory is the idealistic theory, which states that law should be based on natural rights and liberties and that the rules of law should be clear and publicized, and applied evenly to all citizens.