Law is the set of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is the subject of ongoing debate and there are many different fields within Law. The principal purposes of Law are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights. Law can be established by a collective legislative body through statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or by judges through binding precedent (as in common law systems). Individuals can also create legally binding contracts.
The most familiar field of Law is criminal law, which covers the definition and penalty for crimes such as murder, rape and fraud. It includes the procedures for obtaining and evaluating evidence in criminal cases, and the rules that govern the rights of the accused. In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction.
Another important area of law is family law, which covers the status and rights of a married couple. A third area is labour law, which deals with the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union, as well as individual employment law. Other areas of law include administrative law, which deals with the way a government agency or department operates; civil procedure, which relates to how trials and appeals are conducted; and evidence law, which addresses which materials can be admitted as testimony in court.
While some of these fields have clear boundaries, many of them overlap and interconnect. For example, civil rights laws may cover issues such as racial discrimination and equal pay for women, while labour laws may involve regulations such as minimum wage and workplace safety. Administrative law concerns the way a government agency or department functions, and often involves issues such as taxation. The legal system is complicated, and it can be difficult for ordinary people to understand what is happening in a court of law.
In most nations, who makes and enforces the Law is a matter of politics. A stable democracy can make a nation safe, prosperous and fair for all its citizens, but in some cases, authoritarian governments can keep the peace but oppress minorities or their political opponents. Revolutions occur each year against the political-legal status quo, and there is a constant search for fairer and more equitable rules of law and justice.
The concept of Law is a complex one, and it will be explored in more detail in the next few articles. For a brief overview, see the articles below: