The law is the set of rules that regulates a community and is enforced by a controlling authority through penalties. A legal system can differ significantly among countries, with some using statutes (official laws passed by a legislature) while others use the common law or civil law, which is based on the decisions of courts and which contains a body of case law. The practice of law is a profession called jurisprudence, and people who study law are known as lawyers.
Laws govern almost every aspect of a person’s daily life, from contracts to property rights to how crimes are prosecuted. They serve many purposes, including setting standards and maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights.
In addition to regulating behavior, the law can define the structure and organization of something, such as a language or work of art. It can also explain a natural process, such as the law of gravity or the law of thermodynamics.
Most countries have a court system that resolves disputes and determines guilt or innocence in criminal cases. These courts usually consist of a judge and a jury, where the judge directs the jury on how to interpret the evidence presented in a trial and decides whether the accused is guilty or innocent. The judges must follow a code of conduct when they are deciding cases, and most of the time this code is based on the law and precedent established by previous trials and decisions.
The judicial system also oversees the constitutionality of new laws and ensures that the laws are applied consistently. In most countries, the highest law is the constitution and the rest of the laws are enacted by the legislative branch. The judiciary has the power to remove laws that are unconstitutional or illegitimate.
There are a wide variety of legal fields, which include labour law, intellectual property law, and civil law. Labour law covers the tripartite relationship between a worker, employer and trade union, which includes collective bargaining, health and safety regulations and the right to strike. Intellectual property law covers the ownership of ideas, such as patents and copyrights, which are protected by the law. Civil law focuses on the legal procedure to be followed during a trial and appeals, such as how to handle evidence and which materials are admissible in court.
Some philosophers have shaped thinking about the law, such as Max Weber, who wrote about how governments should be limited and only act on the basis of reason and fairness, not coercion. Others, such as Hans Kelsen, have created a “pure” theory of law, which does not describe what must happen, but only defines certain rules to abide by. These theories can be a source of debate and controversy over the role of the law. Regardless of how the field is described, most law scholars agree that it has several important functions. These are: