Law is a system of rules that a society develops to deal with crime, business agreements, and social relationships. This includes everything from property rights to the laws of war.
In a nation, the law can serve to (1) keep the peace and maintain the status quo; (2) preserve individual rights; (3) protect minorities against majorities; (4) promote social justice; and (6) provide for orderly social change. Some legal systems are better at these tasks than others, however.
The law is also a means of control, and it can be coercive. The authoritarian government of Burma or Zimbabwe, for example, may keep the peace and maintain the status quo by oppressing political opponents (e.g., by making it illegal for citizens to leave the country).
It can also be used as a tool of social engineering, in which conflicting pulls of political philosophy, economic interests, and ethical values struggled for recognition against a background of history, tradition, and legal technique.
There are several types of law: civil law, criminal law, and regulatory law. Each type serves a different purpose in society, and the legal system of a particular country can vary widely from the one of another.
Common law, which is the most familiar, generally consists of statutes adopted by a legislature and judicial decisions based on those statutes. These judicial decisions are usually binding on lower courts, as well as future judges of the same court.
Some systems are based on the doctrine of precedent, or stare decisis. This means that a court’s decision must be followed by lower courts in the future to ensure that similar cases reach similar results.
Other types of law include regulations, which regulate how businesses operate within a given country. These regulations typically cover issues such as how much a company must pay to operate, whether employees can be fired for misconduct, and how much capital a bank must hold.
Regulations are especially important in industries such as water, energy, and telecomms. In recent years, governments have increasingly regulated the activities of private companies in these sectors, particularly as privatisation has become popular.
In other words, they have a legal obligation to ensure that their products and services meet standards of quality and safety.
This is done in a variety of ways, including setting minimum standards for goods and services and creating guidelines for how businesses should behave. It can also involve enforcing or protecting people from harmful practices that might cause them harm, such as sexual abuse or environmental damage.
The law also has a role in regulating international affairs. It is often used to resolve disputes between countries that share a common language, culture, or religion, and it can sometimes be used to enforce peace agreements and treaties.
Various authors have developed a variety of definitions of law, and these differences can affect the way it is used in practice. Some are more general, while others focus on specific aspects of it.