Law is a system of rules a society or government develops to deal with crime, business agreements, and social relationships. The term is also used to describe the field of legal study and to refer to people who work in the law, including lawyers and judges.
Law has many purposes, but four are particularly important: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. A legal system’s effectiveness depends on its capacity to perform these functions and its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Laws that do not serve these purposes are often unjust, ineffective, or outdated.
Unlike the laws of science, which explain why phenomena occur, law explains what must be done in a particular circumstance. A good example is the law of gravity, which states that objects fall down to the ground if they are close together. This law works in every circumstance, but it does not explain why the law of gravity exists or what causes it.
In addition to regulating human behavior, a law may protect the property of its owners. It can also establish what is morally and ethically right or wrong, and it may even define what is considered to be a crime. Laws may be established by a king or other ruler, and they are usually enforced by judges or by police officers.
Most nations have a set of laws that governs their citizens and businesses. These laws are known as national, state, or provincial law. In some countries, a single law applies to the whole nation, while in others laws vary by region. The laws of a country are often translated into other languages to make them more accessible to its citizens.
The law may be based on religious, philosophical, or scientific principles. For example, a religious law may be a doctrine that a person should not steal or commit other crimes. A philosophy of law may be based on natural or positive law, which is a system of laws established by a government, or it may be based on civil law, which is the common system of laws found in most European countries.
Regardless of the type of law, it is essential for a nation to have a well-trained legal profession. The law is a complex subject, and it is important to have knowledgeable people to interpret and apply it. For more information on the legal profession, see legal education and legal training. For a discussion of how laws evolve over time, see legal history. Law is also related to other fields, such as economics, politics, and philosophy. For more information on these topics, see jurisprudence and legal philosophy. Law is also an area of research in which a number of important scholars have studied. For more on these topics, see legal studies. In addition, see the articles on censorship, criminal law, and law enforcement for more information on specific types of laws and their effects. This article is a part of the Oxford Reference Encyclopedia.