Law is the system of rules that governs human behavior, and is created and enforced by social and governmental institutions. It is a complex and overlapping field that encompasses many aspects of society, including personal freedom, public safety, economics, political systems, and social justice.
Legal principles are established by legislatures, enacted in the form of statutes; by the executive in the form of regulations and decrees; and through precedent, established by judges in common law jurisdictions. There are also private individuals who create legally binding contracts.
The concept of law has been analyzed by philosophers and scholars, and it is often regarded as the science of right and wrong. However, its precise definition remains a matter of debate.
There are three primary categories of law: criminal, civil and religious. Each of these is an important part of a country’s system, and each has a unique history.
Criminal law deals with offenses and penalties. It is divided into crimes and non-crimes, with offenses falling under the category of felonies and less serious crimes known as misdemeanors.
Misdemeanors are typically punishable by less than a year in prison.
Felonies are more serious offenses that could lead to life in prison or the death penalty.
In civil law, courts follow a set of written rules to determine the rights of citizens and the conduct of businesses. In most countries, these rules are codified in a system of laws called civil codes.
Some of these laws are based on principles from other fields, such as economics, philosophy or religion. Others are derived from specific cultures, for example Chinese law and Greek law.
Christian canon law, Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia are among the oldest sources of religious law in the world. These traditions of law are largely based on the teachings of religious leaders, with interpretation and jurisprudence being the result of further human elaboration.
Other areas of law are concerned with social institutions, communities and partnerships. These are reflected in legal ethics, constitutional law and the relationship of law to a nation’s political structures. In a democratic country, law can be used to keep peace, preserve the status quo and protect individual rights. It can also serve as a tool to promote social justice, orderly change and protect minorities against majorities.