Law is the system of rules that governs human behavior and the institutions that enforce them. These rules can include laws on a local, national and international level.
Legal systems vary significantly and are rooted in different cultures and traditions, yet most of them incorporate some elements of what we today call morality or natural law. Historically, there have been two main theories of what constitutes law, one based on utilitarianism and the other rooted in naturalism (a philosophy that argues that all laws are grounded in natural laws).
A utilitarian theory holds that law should be governed by the highest possible good for the greatest number of people. This explains why law is often associated with morality and justice.
The concept of “natural law” emerged in ancient Greek philosophy and was later revived in the 17th century through the works of Thomas Aquinas and John Austin. Its influence on Western culture has been extensive.
Naturalist philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that laws are derived from nature and should be based on reason and justice rather than morality or ethics. Their view is shared by many social theorists and has remained dominant in the legal world for most of history.
There are three major areas of law: civil, criminal and evidence. Civil law is concerned with the governing of people, property and business transactions, including rights such as employment, inheritance, contracts and divorce.
Criminal law involves the regulating of criminal activity. This includes policing, the courts and prisons.
Evidence law deals with the admissibility of evidence in court, such as witness testimony and documents. It also relates to the rules of trial and appellate procedure.
Precedent – A previous case with similar facts and law that a court considers influential. It is not necessarily binding, but it can influence the outcome of a later case if the facts are not entirely identical.
A precedent is often a court decision that must be followed unless the judge can show that it was wrongly decided or differed in some way.
This is a common rule in many countries, especially when a new law is being passed. Some of the most common types of precedent are judicial decisions, such as rulings by the Supreme Court, and laws passed by governments to regulate their activities.
There are many other subjects that are included under the umbrella of law, such as immigration and nationality law, which deal with the rights of foreigners to live in a country and acquire or lose citizenship. Others are social security law and family law, which deal with establishing the rights of children.
Some legal matters are subject to regulation, such as energy, water and telecomms. This is done for the sake of public safety and in order to ensure fairness and efficiency.
Unlike most other forms of law, this does not require a formal legislative process or any particular form of authority. The regulations are usually formulated by an independent body, such as the government or an industry regulator.