Law is the system of rules and regulations that governs a society or community. It defines what is right and wrong, and protects citizens’ rights and liberties. Laws are enforced by courts, which judge cases and administer justice. A person who studies law is called a lawyer or jurist. Laws may be written or unwritten. They may be created by parliament or the government, or they may be derived from custom and practice. Some laws are based on religion, such as Jewish and Islamic halakha and Sharia, or Christian canon law. Other laws are based on natural processes, such as the laws of gravity or thermodynamics. Laws can also be influenced by social and cultural factors, such as the code of silence in a family, or by societal expectations and pressures.
The law is divided into civil and criminal law. Civil law consists of fields such as torts, contracts and property. Crimes are offenses against a federal, state or local community, and they are prosecuted by criminal courts. There are many types of crimes, such as homicide, murder, burglary, robbery and embezzlement. Criminal law is a major field of study.
Some people believe that a society that obeys the law is the most prosperous. Others, however, disagree. The purpose of law is to promote peace and prosperity by establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberty and rights. Ideally, laws are clearly stated and accessible, so that remedies are self-evident. They should also leave room for the judiciary to adjust rules to social change and new needs, through interpretation and creative jurisprudence.
Legal scholars often use historical examples to illustrate how the law works. For example, during the Roman Empire, professional jurists were trained and developed a system of law that was very detailed. This system of law was later adapted by medieval legal scholars who researched and developed a body of case law that became the common law. The rules of common law were not always written down, but they were interpreted and applied by judges in individual cases.
Modern laws are increasingly complex, covering subjects such as taxation, environmental protection and international relations. Laws are a crucial part of a democratic society, as they ensure that governments and public officials are held accountable by the courts for their actions. The law is also important in a free society, as it helps to limit the power of governmental and military forces over its citizens. The rule of law is a key principle in democracy, and includes principles such as supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, separation of powers, and participation in decision-making. These principles are embodied in international treaties and human rights legislation, as well as in constitutional and legal systems. A new area of law is space law, which addresses activities in Earth orbit and outer space by means of treaties and national law. It is a rapidly developing field of law.