Law is the set of rules a society or nation uses to govern itself. These laws can be based on natural or human rights, such as property, contract and a right to trial. In general, laws protect people from exploitation, abuse and other harms by restricting certain types of behaviour. They can also regulate businesses, enforce a fair economy and promote social justice. Laws can be interpreted and enforced through courts, police and other governmental institutions. The study of law includes the history, philosophy and economic analysis of the legal system as well as its application to specific issues such as criminal and civil prosecutions.
In the past, nations developed a wide range of laws to govern their societies. Some were written, such as the Bible, and others were unwritten, such as customs, traditions and local beliefs. Often, laws were changed to reflect changes in culture or technology. For example, when automobiles were invented, the laws that governed road use had to be modified. In modern times, many countries have codified their laws so they can be easily understood and followed. These laws can be categorized as civil, common or religious.
The term “law” can be used more broadly to describe a collection of laws, or the body of legal knowledge that is possessed by lawyers and judges. It can also be used to refer to a particular court or legal proceeding. For example, a murder is a crime against the law and could result in jail time. A law can be a rule that makes it against the law to steal or to use drugs. It can also be a body of rules that dictate how a legal case should be conducted.
As the world became a global village, a number of international laws were developed. Laws related to international trade, such as the Law Merchant, helped merchants understand a single standard of law and avoid being ripped off by rogue traders. Other laws concern the safety of airplanes and ships, the rights of workers to a living wage and the responsibilities of utilities such as water, energy and communications companies to the communities they serve.
Other areas of law include space law, which addresses issues about activities in Earth orbit and outer space; constitutional law, which involves the rights of citizens; and a growing area called administrative law, which addresses regulations that affect business, the environment and financial markets. There are also laws governing the relationships of governments with other nations and international organisations such as the United Nations and the European Union.
The study of law encompasses an extremely broad spectrum of subjects, and the subjects often intertwine and overlap. However, three broad areas are presented here for convenience. Labour law covers the tripartite relationship between worker, employer and trade union, including collective bargaining and the right to strike. Civil procedure deals with the rules that must be followed as trials and appeals are heard. Evidence law encompasses which materials are admissible in a court of law. Finally, jurisprudence deals with the principles and theories that guide judges in their interpretation and application of law.