Law is a set of rules that a state or nation creates to form a framework to ensure a peaceful society. When these laws are broken, sanctions can be imposed. A variety of different schools of thought have shaped ideas about what law is and what it should be.
It is hard to give a precise definition of Law, because it is an extremely complex subject that covers many different areas of human activity and interaction. However, there are a few key aspects that can be identified.
The most important function of Law is to provide a means for people to solve problems and disputes that cannot be settled by other methods. This can include resolving differences between individuals, businesses or nations, and preventing people from harming each other or their property. Law can also be used to enforce international treaties, and establish rights for people in the workplace.
Some of the most important kinds of Law are criminal, constitutional and trust law. Criminal law helps to prevent people from breaking the rules by punishing them for doing so. Constitutional law explains how a government should work, including the separation of powers between different parts of the state. Trust law relates to the way in which money that is saved for future use, such as pension funds or savings accounts, is protected from being lost. In addition, there are many other types of law that cover areas such as intellectual property, family and employment.
Law reflects the values and beliefs of the culture in which it is created, so a country’s legal system will usually contain principles that are based on its cultural and religious traditions. These can vary widely, with some cultures using ancient religious texts such as the Vedas, Bible or Koran to guide their lawmaking process.
Having a well-functioning legal system is essential for most nations to be able to live in peace and protect their citizens. The political landscape varies from nation to nation, but it is generally the case that those who have a military or other type of powerful advantage will be able to command the political power necessary to make and enforce laws. Inevitably, revolutions and other rebellions against existing political-legal authority occur.
A professional who studies and debates the laws of a specific country or region is called a lawyer, jurist or attorney. They may specialise in a particular area of Law, such as commercial or family law. Some lawyers are ‘transactional’ and only deal with writing contracts, while others are ‘litigators’ who go to court to represent their clients. There are also specialists in international law and in the field of law theory. Law is an extremely complex and fascinating subject, covering an area of human activity that is as diverse as the planet itself. It is an integral part of the human condition, and it continues to evolve and adapt to meet the needs of a changing world. The encyclopaedias in this series provide authoritative and accessible coverage of the law, from criminal law to taxation and social security law.