The law is a set of rules created by social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. It is enforced by the state and, if breached, can lead to sanctions including imprisonment and fines. People of different societies and cultures have many views about what the law is, with some describing it as a science, others as an art and still others as a religion. However, all agree that the law provides a framework for human behaviour that ensures the safety and security of citizens.
The purpose of the law is to protect individuals, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights. This is achieved through the rule of law, which requires people to obey the laws of their country and to respect each other. The law also ensures that everyone has access to justice and that the government is accountable for its actions.
Different types of law cover specific areas. Immigration and nationality law deal with the right to live in a country or the process of getting citizenship, whilst family law covers marriage, divorce and property rights. Employment law covers the tripartite relationship between worker, employer and trade unions, and includes regulations about workplace safety and a minimum wage. Criminal law involves the punishment of people who commit offences, such as driving while drunk or defaming someone. The law also regulates the transport of goods, such as by air or sea and the commercial transaction of money.
There are various approaches to the study of law, with some academics focusing on how the law is made and how it is changed, whilst others have concentrated on particular areas of the legal system. The latter have included the development of the common law, which originated in England, and civil law, based on the Napoleonic code. Other areas include administrative law and the law of international relations, where the interaction between governments is analysed.
The philosopher Bentham’s utilitarian theories on the nature of law have influenced the way in which it is defined. Others have argued that the laws of a society are derived from innate moral principles, such as those expounded by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and re-entered modern thinking through Thomas Aquinas.
The practice of the law has also been shaped by the felt necessities of a time, the dominant moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious prejudices and even the idiosyncrasies of individual judges. All these factors are considered when a judge is deciding whether something is legally sound or not. This makes it difficult to provide a precise definition of the law. The law is, therefore, a complex entity and one that has to be studied in detail to understand it fully. This is why there are so many books on the subject and why a law degree is such a popular choice of career for young people. It is also why the law is such an important part of a democratic society.