Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior and promote public safety and well being. It is a key subject in the study of politics, economics, history and society and raises important questions about equality and fairness.
The precise nature of law is a matter of ongoing debate and is often framed in philosophical, political and sociological terms. It can be seen as a science, an art or a moral science. Law is also the source of a wide range of careers including those of politicians, judges, lawyers and police officers.
While the core subjects of law include criminal and civil law, its scope is vast. The study of law encompasses topics as diverse as commercial laws that regulate businesses; family laws, which govern the relationship between parents and children; labour laws, which deal with a tripartite industrial relation between worker, employer and trade union; property laws, which cover the ownership and control of assets; and tax laws, which establish how much money people must pay for goods and services.
Legal systems can be broadly divided into those that rely on statutes and regulations passed through legislative processes and those that rely on a judge-made body of precedent known as case law. The latter is a feature of “common law” jurisdictions and some continental (or Romano-Germanic) law systems that are found on most continents and cover about 60% of the world’s population.
The common law approach to legal decision making is based on the principle of stare decisis, which means that decisions made by higher courts are binding on lower courts in the same jurisdiction. This contrasts with civil law systems, which generally rely on a written code of laws that are explicitly codified.
In addition to the common law, there are a number of religiously inspired law systems, such as the Jewish Halakhah, Islamic Shari’a and Christian canon law, that are used in some religious communities. These legal systems often have a wide range of secular provisions.
The philosophy of law also includes the study of why some laws are more effective than others in promoting public safety and good behaviour, while other laws appear to be less successful or even counterproductive. In addition, there are a number of legal problems that have yet to be solved, such as the extent to which the judicial system is able to ensure justice for all, regardless of wealth and status.