Law is the system of rules that controls a society and its relationships. It is a field of study and discipline that encompasses many topics, but it can be generally defined as the body of rules governing an activity or relationship enforced by a controlling authority. The law may take the form of statutes or common laws (either oral or written), but it can also be found in the behavioural norms and customs of a group. The law can be of a moral or a natural/humanistic nature.
The law can govern such activities as property, business, labour, taxation, justice and war. It is also a source of scholarly inquiry in areas such as legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.
The history of the law reflects the changing nature of human society, but certain principles have remained constant. The earliest laws were derived from custom and theology, and later came to be formulated by professional jurists using Roman and Greek philosophy.
By the medieval era, a large body of precedent had emerged, and this became the basis for modern civil law. In the modern era, new fields have been added to the scope of the law. The most recent additions are space law, cyberlaw and human rights.
In a law-governed society, laws are enforced by the state. The structure of the state and the way it operates is determined by a combination of constitutional laws, legislation and judicial decisions. The state is responsible for ensuring the rule of law is applied fairly and equally to all citizens.
There are four principal purposes of the law: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. While some legal systems serve only one of these goals, others combine multiple goals. For example, a nation under an authoritarian regime can keep the peace, maintain the status quo and protect minorities against majorities, but it may oppress political opponents or prevent social change.
There are two main types of law: civil and criminal. Civil law deals with the resolution of lawsuits (disputes) between individuals or organizations. Criminal law deals with conduct that is considered harmful to society and can lead to imprisonment. Other areas of law include administrative law, which addresses government regulation, and the laws governing international relations, such as treaty law. In addition, there are special areas such as labour law, which covers the tripartite industrial relationship of worker, employer and trade union, and evidence law, which concerns what is admissible in courts.