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What is Law?

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Law is a system of rules and principles that is enforced by state or societal institutions to regulate human behaviour, and to ensure peace in society. Its precise definition is the subject of intense debate and many books and articles have been written on the subject. In simple terms, it is a system of rules which are designed to protect people and their property from harm or loss; and to ensure fairness in the dealings of all people, regardless of social class or wealth. These rules are created by the state and implemented by the judicial, executive and administrative branches of the government. They are usually enforceable by the state, through mechanisms such as police and courts, where they can be broken and sanctions imposed.

There are a range of different laws and areas of law, each with their own specific characteristics. Some examples include:

Air law, for example, concerns the rules and regulations that govern aircraft flights; maritime law involves shipping, trade, and marine safety; intellectual property law is a collection of laws that cover everything from patents to copyrights and trademarks; and criminal law covers crimes, punishments, and defences. Each of these is an area of law in its own right and it is the study of these laws that makes up the field of law.

The law can be created either by a group legislature (or parliament) in the form of statutes; by a single legislator, through decrees or regulations; or it may be established by judges through case law (known as common law). The United States Code is a compilation and codification of all federal laws, and the interpretations of these laws made by judges have legal force under the doctrine of stare decisis. Similarly, private individuals may create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements that are alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation.

There are also laws governing other aspects of people’s lives, including a person’s rights in the workplace; their rights to privacy, freedom and equality; and the rights of the child. In addition, there are laws relating to the environment, animal welfare and the use of property. A particular type of law that is studied in depth is constitutional law, which refers to the constitutions and charters of a country. It is important to understand these laws and how they can be changed, reformed or amended to improve a society. This is often referred to as the rule of law. A key aspect of this is that the laws must be applied equally to all members of a society, regardless of social class or wealth, and that there are checks on state power (such as free media and a free press) which can prevent abuses of state power. This is known as the separation of powers. A related concept is legal democracy.

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