Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate. It has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice. Laws may be made by group legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or by judges through precedent, in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals may also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements, which adopt alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation.
The purpose of Law is to prevent people from harming themselves or each other, and to promote public safety and welfare by enforcing standards and resolving disputes. It also serves a number of other purposes, including protecting liberties and rights. For example, physician-patient privilege protects a patient’s private conversations with medical personnel, and copyright laws prevent others from taking advantage of an author’s creative work.
Legal systems vary widely around the world. Some countries have a common law tradition, which originated in England and is followed by other Commonwealth nations; while other countries have civil law traditions, based on the Napoleonic Code and other sources. A few have hybrid traditions, combining elements of common and civil law with religious influences.
Different branches of Law deal with specific types of transactions, relationships and disputes. For example, contract law covers all the rules and procedures that apply to a written agreement to exchange something of value. Property law defines a person’s rights and duties toward tangible property, such as land or buildings (called real property) and personal possessions like cars and furniture (called personal property).
Criminal Law deals with the government’s power to punish people who break the law. Constitutional law relates to the separation of powers between different branches of government and the rights of citizens, such as the right to trial by jury. Labour law covers the tripartite relationship between employer, worker and trade union, including collective bargaining and the right to strike. Evidence law involves the rules and procedures that courts must follow when examining or considering evidence in a case.
While many legal scholars argue that the modern state is so large and powerful that it cannot be held accountable to the laws it makes, some critics are increasingly concerned about the extension of military and policing power into civilian life. These concerns are often focused on issues such as the war on terror and surveillance, which have raised questions about how these activities relate to the rule of law. Some scholars have proposed that these broader concerns should be addressed through constitutional reforms, and others have suggested that the best way to maintain the integrity of the law is to devolve more power to local authorities. Others have advocated further restrictions on the power of the state to make laws, in particular by limiting its ability to interfere with individuals’ freedoms. They suggest that the resulting increase in local control would be more effective and better serve the interests of citizens.