Law is a collection of rules that regulates and enforces behavior in society. In most countries, law is created by a government, and it applies to all people within a country or state. Law covers a wide range of topics, from criminal laws that punish crimes to property laws that dictate who owns things such as houses and cars. Laws can also apply to specific fields such as science, culture, and commerce, but they typically address fundamental issues that affect all of society. These issues include ensuring peace, maintaining the status quo, protecting rights of minorities against majorities, and providing for orderly social change.
Generally, a legal system is made up of two components: a legislature and courts. Legislators are groups of people elected by citizens to write laws, which they then pass on to the courts to be enforced. The courts decide whether a person is guilty of breaking the law, and they can also remove laws that violate the constitution or basic human rights.
The legal system varies between different countries, and there are many branches of law. For example, contract law governs agreements to exchange goods or services, and property law outlines the rules relating to tangible items such as land and buildings. Other common areas of law are civil rights, criminal justice, labor law, and medical jurisprudence.
A country’s laws are largely determined by the country’s history and the beliefs of its citizens. For example, ancient Egyptian law grew from custom, and Babylonian King Hammurabi organized it in a code that is still part of modern law. Many religions have their own laws, which can be derived from scripture or written works. Examples of religious law include Jewish Halakha, Islamic Shari’ah, and Christian Canon law.
The law has always had a great deal more to do with experience than with logic, and it is therefore hard to treat it like a set of axioms and corollaries that can be proven from a scientific method. Instead, judges must consider the felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, the intuitions of public policy – avowed or unconscious – and the prejudices of the judges themselves when deciding what is right and wrong.
Most new laws are introduced in the form of bills, which are numbered according to the House of Representatives and Senate where they are first introduced. A bill becomes a public law, or statute, only after it is approved by both chambers of Congress and signed by the President. Other types of laws are private or administrative, and these are usually determined by the government agency that administers them. For a more detailed examination of the law, see law profession; legal education; and law and society.