The body of principles formulated, recognized and enforced by a government in order to maintain social order and justice. It is also considered the state of being a law-abiding citizen, which is generally achieved by obeying the laws and refraining from criminal behavior.
Laws are created for a variety of reasons, from setting standards for what is acceptable behaviour in society (like defining what constitutes assault), to keeping order and ensuring that everyone is treated fairly. There are three main areas of law: civil law, criminal law and administrative law.
In the case of civil law, disputes between individuals are dealt with by courts. This includes issues like property rights, where two people may have competing claims on a piece of land. Criminal law, on the other hand, deals with actions against a community as a whole. It covers everything from murder to bribery, and is the focus of most media attention.
Some of the most important purposes of law are to ensure equality and protect individuals from abuses of power by governments, corporations or other powerful groups. A key component of this is checks and balances on power, such as a free press and mechanisms to oversee the transition of power from one party to another.
To achieve this, some aspects of the law must be clear and accessible to citizens. The law must also be stable and predictable. It is important that the law be able to adapt to change as society evolves, without having to be completely overhauled, and that it be consistent and fair across all levels of government, from local to national.
The idealistic definition of law comes from the ancient Romans, who viewed it as a set of rules that are created by a government to govern its people and ensure justice. According to Salmond, these laws can be either distributive or corrective. Distributive justice aims to ensure the distribution of society’s benefits, while corrective justice seeks to punish those who commit wrongdoing.
An additional function of law is to promote a particular view of reality, such as an idea of nature or humankind’s place in it. This can be a way to justify certain policies, such as protecting endangered species. Some cultures, however, have a different concept of reality and refuse to follow Western ideas of law.
The legal system is the central mechanism in which a society applies and enforces its laws. It is a complex system that can be divided into a number of distinct branches. These include civil law, which covers the relationship between individuals, criminal law, which deals with crimes against a person or group of people, and administrative law, which is the study of how a court functions and what evidence is admissible in a trial or appeal. Other branches of the law include competition law, which traces back to Roman decrees against price fixing and English restraint of trade legislation, and consumer law. A further area of the law is common law, which is based on a historical sequence of judicial decisions.