A set of rules created and enforced by a social or governmental authority to regulate behavior, usually with penalties for breaking them. Law may be derived from social norms, religion, custom, or a written code. Many countries use a common law system in which laws are decided by judges on cases that come to trial, or they may have codes that explicitly specify the rules for deciding disputes. Some laws are binding, meaning they must be followed by all courts; other laws are not binding, but are considered influential.
There are a variety of fields and branches of Law, such as contract law, property law, criminal law, administrative law and tax law. Each field covers different aspects of human interactions and relationships, based on a complex mix of factors. For example, contract law regulates people’s agreements to exchange goods or services for money or anything else of value; property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible personal possessions (like houses and cars), as well as intangible possessions like bank accounts and shares of stock. Criminal law and tax law deal with the punishment and taxation of crime.
The precise nature of law is an ongoing source of debate. Some scholars have argued that law is a product of social and cultural factors, such as gender and race, while others have argued that law is fundamentally an immutable part of human nature. The law is also continually changing as society evolves; for example, new technology and the internet have spawned whole new areas of law, such as cyberlaw, and the expansion of globalization has brought many new issues to the forefront of legal discussion, including the right to privacy, freedom of speech, and global justice.
In the modern world, ensuring that law serves its principal functions is a complicated endeavor. Governments must balance the needs of the people with the need to govern efficiently and effectively. A stable economy is vital, but so is a strong sense of fairness and security for all people. Governments must be accountable, and mechanisms for checking their power, such as a free press and a secure transfer of power between administrations, must exist.
The political landscape is very different between nations, and many states struggle with balancing these competing interests; there are numerous revolts against existing political-legal authorities, as well as attempts to extend the law’s scope to include greater rights for citizens. The resulting legal landscape is highly variable, with each nation’s laws reflecting its own unique culture.