Law is a system of rules that social or governmental institutions enforce in order to regulate behavior. It is one of the cornerstones of civilisation, shaping politics, economics, history and society in a variety of ways. It provides the source of a great deal of scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy and economic analysis, as well as raising numerous ethical and social questions about fairness, justice and equality.
Various fields of law address these issues in different ways. Contract law regulates agreements to exchange goods and services, such as contracts for a rental property or the sale of a car. Property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible property, including land or buildings, as well as intangible possessions like bank accounts and shares of stock. Criminal law punishes conduct that is deemed harmful to the community, such as murder or theft. The law also provides a way for conflicting parties to settle their disputes without physical violence.
The law may be based on religious precepts, as in Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia law, which survive in some communities today. Alternatively, it can be derived from human elaboration through interpretation, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus), and precedent, as in common law jurisdictions. The law shapes politics, economics and history in a number of different ways and acts as mediator of relations between people.
In addition to regulating commerce, it addresses many aspects of the relationship between governments and their citizens, as well as among nations. It includes treaties, international agreements and conventions, as well as domestic laws and regulations. It is an important field of study and a key element of international politics.
Another major area of the law is taxation and financial regulation. This encompasses everything from the amounts of money banks must hold to the standards they must meet when granting loans and investments. It is also important in preventing economic crises, such as the Wall Street Crash of 1929, by setting minimum standards for the amount of capital that must be held, and by requiring rigorous oversight of banking practices.
Law is also important in the private sector, regulating such things as zoning ordinances, mortgages and employment contracts. It is also a key factor in maintaining a well-ordered society, ensuring that police officers and government officials act within the boundaries of their authority, and ensuring that people respect each other’s property rights. It also provides a framework for settling disputes that arise between individuals, such as when someone is injured in a car accident or if their reputation is damaged by defamation of character. It may also govern such matters as inheritance and divorce.