Law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It can be considered as a science and also as an art, and the precise definition of law has been debated for centuries. Law is a central aspect of human society and provides a rich source for scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. It plays a key role in the development of democracy, which requires a regulated governing body with the power to punish those who break its rules and to ensure that the benefits and costs of social change are fairly distributed.
Modern political systems are increasingly complex. Max Weber and others reshaped thinking on the extension of state, and today’s military, policing and bureaucratic power over ordinary citizens’ daily lives pose special problems for accountability that earlier writers such as Locke or Montesquieu could not have foreseen. The custom and practice of the legal profession is an important part of people’s access to justice, whilst civil society is a term used to refer to the social institutions, communities and partnerships that form law’s political basis.
Law relates to all aspects of people’s lives, from work and home life to the use of land and the purchase or disposal of property. It can be split into two domains: public law and private law. Public law concerns government and society, including constitutional, administrative and criminal law. It includes laws dealing with the provision of public services and utilities such as energy, water and telecommunications. It can be further divided into regulatory and contractual law. Regulation deals with the management of businesses in a market by setting standards and codes of conduct. Contractual law involves contracts between individuals and businesses, for example the sale of goods or services or an employment contract.
The nature of law is not easily defined, because it relates to many other subjects and because different societies have evolved different legal traditions. However, it is often described as a social construct. This means that the way it is understood depends on the context in which it is applied and on how it is interpreted by individuals. For example, it is widely accepted that a society with laws that do not treat all its members equally is unjust.
The study of law can be broadly categorized into three main areas: theory, philosophy and practice. Theory and philosophy of law examine the nature of the concept, its development over time and how it reflects and influences social reality. Theorists in these fields also consider whether law is a natural or artificial construct, and they question how it can be made enforceable. In addition, they investigate the relationship between law and other normative domains, such as morality or social conventions. The purpose of these studies is to contribute to a better understanding of the meaning and significance of law. This in turn may help improve the way it is practised and implemented.