Law is a set of rules, generally established by a government or a social group to govern the actions of the people in a given situation. It is often divided into three main branches: criminal law, civil law and administrative law.
The term law is used interchangeably with rule, regulation, precept and statute. Although these terms have distinct meanings, they all indicate that there is an authoritative authority imposing or prescribing some act, obligation or procedure.
In most places, people must follow laws that are made by a government, or they may face penalties for breaking them. For example, if you steal, you can be fined or go to jail.
Legal systems vary from nation to nation, and the governing political power of each country varies. Some nations have authoritarian governments, while others are more democratic and tend to promote individual rights.
Different types of law serve different purposes in a nation, ranging from maintaining the status quo to protecting minorities against majorities or promoting social justice. A variety of factors influence the effectiveness of a nation’s legal system, including the culture of the nation, economic status, and social structure.
Commonly, the laws of a nation are created by a parliamentary legislature and enforced through court decisions. In some cases, the law is created through executive decrees or regulations.
Other kinds of law are more abstract, and do not have a specific source or form, such as Newton’s laws of gravity or Mendel’s laws of independent assortment. They are descriptions of observations that do not describe how they work, but they may help unify a body of empirical evidence.
These laws are based on an extensive body of data and scientific theory, which may or may not have been proven through experimentation. However, they are generally regarded as an indisputable fact about the world and the forces that exist within it.
The term “law” is also commonly used to refer to the profession of lawyer. Professionals who perform legal services have a distinct professional identity, which is usually regulated through legal procedures (e.g., passing a qualifying examination).
There are various methods by which lawyers apply and interpret the law. These include legal syllogism, analogy and argumentative theories present in both civil law and common law legal systems.
In some places, legal rights are created by a state or by society; others, such as in the United States, are based on a principle of common law.
Right is a general term used in legal theory to refer to something that has a legally recognized and enforceable status, such as an inheritance right or the right to vote in elections.
Some rights are vested, such as a right to inherit property, while others do not vest until they have been satisfied by the exercise of other duties. Other times, a right does not correlate to any duty at all (e.g., MacCormick 1982: 163 & Raz 1970: 226).
Nevertheless, the existence of some legal rights does not necessarily mean that those rights are valid or enforceable in the legal sense. For example, it is not always possible to know which of a person’s rights are legally enforceable or not; such matters can only be determined in court.