Law is a system of rules and regulations established by a society or government that regulate behaviour. It is a broad area that encompasses criminal and civil laws. It also serves as a source of scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.
Law has many functions but four principal ones are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The societal demands on the law vary from place to place and are affected by differing social conditions. This creates a tension between the ideals of the legal community and its practical application.
In “common law” jurisdictions, decisions made by judges or barristers are recognised as law on an equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process and with regulations issued by the executive branch. The principle of stare decisis, wherein decisions of higher courts are binding on lower courts, aims to ensure that similar cases reach similar results. In contrast, in “civil law” systems, the legislative statutes are the primary source of law, with judge-made precedent only a secondary consideration.
The law can be found in a wide range of areas including contract, constitutional, criminal and maritime law. It can be broadly categorised into common and international law, depending on whether it addresses legal relations between countries or with other entities such as companies or individuals. It can be further broken down into various sub-categories such as property, tax, banking and securities law, medical jurisprudence, intellectual property law and labour law.