Law is the system of rules enacted and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. A legal system provides people with a way to settle disputes, protect property and maintain order. It is a powerful tool that can be used for good or bad, and it has many implications in daily life.
The law can be divided into several broad categories, such as criminal law, family law, employment law, property law, corporate law and administrative law. The field of law is so vast that it covers almost every facet of human activity, and it continues to expand as society changes.
A major area of growth has been in the regulation of private industry and public services, including water, power, energy and telecommunications. As governments have moved to privatize these services, they have found it necessary to establish laws regulating the activities of private corporations doing the work once done by government. This has created a new area of law called administrative law.
Criminal law deals with offenses against a person or his or her property, for example, murder and robbery. It also deals with the punishment of the offender. Civil law, on the other hand, involves disputes between individuals and covers matters like contract law, tort law and defamation. The laws of a nation or state, meanwhile, deal with the rights and duties of citizens as well as how the state itself is structured and operates.
In a common law country, the law is created by judges who interpret and apply statutes and regulations passed through the legislative process along with precedent set by earlier cases. This principle is known as stare decisis (Latin for “to stand by decisions”). It ensures that similar cases reach similar results and helps to avoid inconsistent rulings.
Civil law systems, on the other hand, use principles that are based on concepts, categories and rules drawn from Roman law and canon law. These are the laws that are followed by about 60% of the world’s population. These civil law traditions include the principles of supremacy and equality before the law, accountability, independence of the judiciary, transparency, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, and avoidance of arbitrariness.
The United States has a mixed legal system, in which a small number of federal statutes preempt state law in certain areas, but the law of most other fields, such as insurance and family law, coexists with a large body of common law. The legal system of the United Kingdom is largely based on the common law as well, but has some elements of civil law innovations, such as the modern company law that developed from the joint stock companies act of 1856 and has led to the Uniform Commercial Code. This code is a codification of many of the principles that govern complex contracts, property and commercial law.