Law is a set of rules or principles created and enforced by social institutions to regulate human activity, especially in relation to property, contracts, crimes, and family issues. It may also refer to the discipline or profession of law, which involves advising people about their rights and representing them in court.
Gray’s definition of law was broadened to include any system of rules that have the force of sanction or admonition: it is a “body of knowledge which provides a code for living.” Law may be the result of social evolution, the product of individual choice and experience (e.g., a statutory law), or the result of religious, philosophical, or ethical beliefs: the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia are examples, as is Christian canon.
A legal system is the basis for a society’s values and the means of its cooperation. It defines the boundaries of a community’s authority over itself, its citizens, and its environment. Law establishes standards, maintains order, enables a fair exchange of goods and services, resolves disputes, and promotes social justice. Governments with authoritarian, totalitarian or autocratic structures may fail to achieve one or more of these goals.
Laws vary among societies and are influenced by culture, religion, politics, economics, history, and other factors. For example, an ancient society’s law may have been to share resources with neighbors. A modern society’s laws may require that an employer provide health and safety training for its employees or impose minimum wages.
The most basic of laws is that every person has the right to life and to own property. This principle is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and many of the world’s governments have adopted it as their own law.
In addition to the fundamental law of property, many countries have specific laws governing such activities as space commerce, the use of land, or pollution. The field of taxation is another area of law, as is banking and financial regulation, which sets minimum standards for the amount of capital banks must hold. The practice of law also encompasses a wide range of other specialities, such as environmental, labor, and international law.
In general, a system of laws is designed to ensure that all people receive the same treatment in a given situation. For example, a court would not allow the testimony of a biased witness or disregard for judicial procedures in deciding a case. A good system of law should be impartial, and all parties involved should respect that judgment.