Law is a set of rules created by the state which form a framework to ensure a peaceful society. It is enforced by mechanisms created by the state and sanctions can be imposed if the rules are broken. Law also aims to protect people’s liberties and rights by setting standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and enforcing contracts.
Legal systems differ and individuals have different ideas about what laws are. However, there are some broad categories of law:
Civil law concerns individuals’ relationships with each other. Property law covers ownership of movable property such as houses, cars and computers; contract law governs the terms of agreements between two parties; tort law relates to injuries caused by the actions of others, such as car accidents or defamation; while family and criminal law deal with issues affecting families and individuals respectively.
The legal system is also influenced by religion. Religious law is explicitly based on religious precepts; examples include Jewish Halakha and Islamic Shari’ah, while Christian canon law still exists in some church communities. These precepts act as a source of further law through interpretation, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent.
Generally, law affects all citizens equally. This is because it applies to both private and public behaviour, including that of governments, police officers and other public officials. The concept of a ‘rule of law’ has been developed by philosophers and writers such as Max Weber, and seeks to guarantee that a government, military or bureaucracy does not exceed its legitimate remit. This requires measures to assure adherence to the principles of supremacy and equality under the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making and legal certainty and transparency.
The law has a very wide scope and many sub-fields of expertise. For example, competition law covers the ways in which businesses may manipulate market prices by using their economic power; this area of law stretches back to Roman decrees against price fixing and the English restraint of trade doctrine. Consumer law, which covers a range of issues from unfair contractual terms and clauses to airline baggage insurance, is another field in this broad area. Similarly, tax law covers everything from the way in which taxes are calculated to the laws relating to inheritance. This area of law is complex and ever-changing, as new industries develop and government policies change. For more details on these topics, see the articles listed below.