What Is Law?
Law is a set of rules, enforceable by a controlling authority, that govern human interactions. It has many branches, including criminal law, civil law, and customary law. Criminal law deals with offenses against a community and the punishment of those who commit them. Civil law addresses a variety of relationships between people, such as contracts and property. Customary law involves longstanding local practices that greatly shape ideas of justice.
Legal scholars use a variety of terms to describe the complexities and purposes of law, which are numerous and diverse. For example, they may discuss the morality of law (the question of whether or not laws should be based on social principles), the philosophy of law (the study of how legal concepts are developed and understood), or the history of law (how laws develop and change over time).
The law is a vital part of any society, both for private individuals and public institutions, such as governments. Law regulates and protects the lives of everyone in a society, and it lays out their obligations and privileges in a way that is fair and equitable. In addition, the law provides a framework for resolving disputes between people and ensuring the safety of property, persons, and the environment.
Law also consists of the practices and procedures by which it is implemented. In general, the practice of law consists of four components: clarity and publicity of the law; stability and equity of enforcement; participation in the law’s administration and adjudication; and accountability to the law by all actors, including the government itself.
For example, the legal process of discovery allows lawyers to examine facts and documents in possession of their opponents before trial. It also includes the process of arguing a case before a judge or jury and the method of recording court proceedings, known as a docket. Sometimes judges convene with their entire court, rather than a quorum, to consider cases that they feel are particularly important. This is known as sitting en banc.
Law also covers the rights of a person to privacy, as well as his or her freedom from slavery, torture, and cruel treatment. The principle of a person’s right to a fair trial is a fundamental principle of the law. Finally, the concept of natural law describes invariable relationships between phenomena, such as Boyle’s Law, which states that the volume of an ideal gas will remain constant irrespective of changes in pressure and temperature. The idea of natural law is controversial, as are other notions of a “law” that are based on social or religious values. See also censorship; crime and punishment; law, philosophy of; and police and military, history of.