The law is the set of rules and principles that a nation or community recognizes as regulating its members’ actions. Law is often divided into a number of fields, including criminal law, civil law, family law, constitutional law, and international law. The law also includes the body of cases and rulings that judges make when deciding a legal dispute.
Law serves many purposes, but four principal ones are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. The laws of a society are often developed through political processes, which vary from one nation to the next. These processes are influenced by the type of government that a nation has, as well as the culture and history of its people. The laws of a particular society are also often shaped by the natural environment in which it is located and the social and economic conditions present there.
The first function of the law is to establish a standard of conduct for its citizens. The standards established by the law are meant to guide and control behavior in a way that promotes public safety and welfare. For example, the law dictates how much weight a person may carry while walking on a sidewalk or how much speed a vehicle must be driven in a city.
Another function of the law is to maintain order in a society by limiting chaos and conflict. For example, the law ensures that property owners have a legal right to their land and protects them from being evicted from their homes by other homeowners or businesses. It also provides a way to resolve disputes over land ownership by bringing the parties to a court hearing where a judge decides who has the right to the property.
In addition to providing standards for a peaceful society, the law helps prevent crime by punishing those who break the rules. The legal system helps to maintain order by ensuring that all people, including the police and government officials, are held accountable to the law. The law is important in a democratic society because it ensures that everyone has a fair and impartial chance to be heard by a judge or jury when they are accused of breaking the rules.
The study of law is a complex subject with an important role in any democracy. It is important to understand how laws are created, enforced, and interpreted so that the law can be used to create a stable and just society. For more information about the laws of a country, see article on agency; air law; bankruptcy; carriage of goods; contract; constitutional law; criminal law; family law; and the body of cases known as caselaw. Oxford Reference offers concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries on all aspects of this broad field. It covers all major legal topics and debates, from crime and terrorism to family and labour law and international law. The site features over 55,000 legal terms explained in plain English, with historical context.