A system of rules and principles enforced by a centralized political authority in order to maintain social order and justice. It is also the condition of civilized behavior that results from adherence to such a system and is brought about by observing its rules. Law is the basis for most of human civilization and is an integral part of a culture. It is the subject of much scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology and raises a variety of complex issues concerning equality and fairness.
The law exists in a variety of forms, depending on the jurisdiction. For example, some countries have a common law system, where judges’ decisions are compiled into laws (case law). Other countries have codified their laws into codes that are more easily understood and followed. The governing principles of all systems are the same, though, and include clear statements of rights and duties, stability of rules and procedures, and impartial justice for citizens.
Many areas of the law exist, ranging from criminal and civil to administrative. The most well-known area is probably constitutional law, which relates to a nation’s constitution. Another important area is tax law, which deals with the regulation of income and corporate taxes. Banking law, financial regulation and commercial and international law all deal with the way in which money is used to manage the economy.
Labour law deals with the tripartite industrial relationship between employer, employee and trade union, regulating matters such as collective bargaining and the right to strike. Immigration law addresses the ways in which a country allows and controls people from other parts of the world to enter its territory. Air, space and maritime law all deal with issues related to human activities in outer space and on earth’s surface, as well as the regulation of these activities.
Legal professions include lawyers, judges and other officials who are responsible for interpreting the law, prosecuting people who break it, and defending or representing them in court. There are also a number of specialised fields in law, such as space law, which relates to human activities in outer space and on earth’s surfaces; maritime law, which deals with the ways in which ships and boats operate; and intellectual property law, which regulates the creation of patents, trademarks, copyrights and other forms of creative work. There is also a growing interest in legal technology, which involves the use of computers to assist with the interpretation and preparation of cases for court. This is often seen as a means of enhancing the efficiency and accuracy of litigation. However, some are concerned that it may lead to the decline of traditional skills and the loss of the personal touch required by good lawyers. This concern is particularly prevalent in developing countries, where access to legal services is limited. Despite this, many law schools now offer degree programs in legal technology. This is likely to expand further as the use of computers in the practice of law becomes more widespread.