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What Is Law?

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Law is a body of rules that governs behavior and the relationships between individuals and among nations. Those rules are enforceable through the power of a controlling authority. They can be written, oral or unwritten and may consist of customs and policies recognized and enforced by a community or by court decisions. They can also be embodied in statutes and regulations promulgated by a government or legal authority.

Those who believe they have been wronged by violation of established law can seek legal remedies for such violations. The field of law deals with a wide variety of issues, from torts (accidents and libel) to contracts and property law. It also addresses the role of government in the administration of justice.

There are many different definitions of law and systems of laws around the world. Some of the most common include:

Some laws are based on religious precepts, such as Jewish Halakhah and Islamic Sharia. These are supplemented by further human elaboration via interpretation, Qiyas, Ijma and consensus. They form the basis for thorough and detailed legal systems.

Other laws are based on scientific theories. Some of these are inherently philosophical and can be difficult to put into words. The law of gravity, for example, can be understood as the general principle that if something falls from a height it will remain at a constant distance below that point regardless of how fast the object is moving.

The concept of law is also influenced by a culture’s view of reality, and there are differences between modern Western and non-modern cultures on what constitutes the law. For example, the Inuit people of northern Canada have a perception of the law that does not divide nature and humanity, as the Greeks did in their conception of natural and divine laws.

Law informs a wide variety of social activities and reflects numerous branches. Contract law, for example, covers agreements to exchange goods or services, and it includes anything from buying a book to trading shares in a corporation. Property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible property, including real estate and personal property (movable objects). Intellectual property law relates to patents, copyrights and trademarks.

Family law concerns marriage, divorce and the rights of children. Criminal law and civil procedure regulate the processes by which cases are heard in a court of law, and evidence law outlines what can and cannot be introduced as testimony in court. International law, constitutional law and international human rights are other fields of study. The concept of law is highly complex and reflects an array of cultural, philosophical and sociological viewpoints. There are debates over whether a law is just or unjust, and the extent to which judges should be allowed to use their own sense of right and wrong in applying the law. These discussions are often highly politicized.

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