Law is the system of rules created by a government to govern a country. It ensures that people act ethically and fairly, and ensures justice is served if they do not. It also protects the rights of minorities against majorities. It is also designed to keep the peace, and to allow social change while preserving individual rights. Laws are enforced by police and courts, and interpreted by judges.
Many types of laws exist. Banking laws set minimum standards for how much capital a bank must hold, and rules about best practice for investment. Regulation deals with public services and utilities like water, electricity and gas, and imposes varying levels of responsibility on private companies doing the job. Criminal law defines offences, prescribes punishments and regulates the investigation and prosecution of crimes. Civil law covers agreements, relationships and property, such as contracts, negligence and defamation.
A law is often based on custom, which may be passed on through family or society. It can also be based on principles enshrined in religious or philosophical books, such as the Vedas or the Bible. However, it is important to examine the socio-economic circumstances which led to a specific piece of legislation. It is then possible to determine whether the law is likely to be successful.
Some legal systems work better than others. For example, an authoritarian government can keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it may oppress minorities and restrict freedoms of speech. A democracy, on the other hand, is likely to produce more harmonious societies, as well as allowing for social change in an orderly manner.
A judicial system must interpret the law, and decide whether it is fair or not. This process is known as the ‘judicial review’, and it involves appeals to higher courts or parliament, and sometimes to the public at large. This is a necessary step to prevent the law from being changed to benefit particular groups at the expense of other citizens.
A person who studies the law is called a jurist or lawyer. They may specialise in a particular area of the law, such as contract law or family law. A career in the law is a popular choice among young people. However, there is also a growing interest in ‘law and society’ which looks at how laws are created, enforced and interpreted. This is a field which has become increasingly important as the world becomes more globalised and connected. Law is therefore a fascinating subject for anyone interested in human behaviour, politics and the way that societies function.