What Is Law?

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Law is a system of rules a society or a government develops to regulate behaviour and deal with crime, business agreements, family disputes and social relationships. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways, and acts as a mediator of relations between people. The precise definition of law is controversial, but it is usually defined as a set of rules that govern human activities.

Some aspects of the law are moral and religious, including a code of ethics for doctors, the laws of marriage and divorce and the sanctity of human life. Other areas include criminal law, which deals with offences against the state, such as murder and robbery, and civil law, which covers disputes between individuals, such as torts (claims for compensation for damage caused by someone else) or defamation of character.

Companies operate under commercial law, which includes company and partnership laws, insolvency and bankruptcy laws, bills of exchange, sales laws and banking regulations. This is an area of legal practice that grew out of the medieval Lex Mercatoria, which was developed to make it easier for traders to trade in different countries, since each country had its own splintered facets of law.

Consumer law is another important branch of legal practice, dealing with unfair contractual terms and clauses and the rights of consumers to information about products they buy. It combines with competition law, which stems from Roman decrees against price fixing and the English restraint of trade doctrine.

Family law covers separation and divorce proceedings, spousal support and children’s rights to their parents. It is a complex area of legal practice, especially when dealing with remarriage after a divorce. Immigration law and nationality law cover the rights of foreigners to live in a nation-state and to acquire or lose citizenship, as well as the problems of refugees and asylum seekers.

The laws of science – including biology, chemistry, physics and astronomy – are an important part of this field, as they explain natural processes and predict how events will occur in the future. They are based on theories that have been tested by experiment and observation over time. The law also encompasses the law of mathematics, which provides a rational basis for understanding the world. Law is a complex area of study, with a wide range of career options for those who want to work in the legal industry. These include solicitors, barristers, advocates and judges. Titles of respect include Esquire, which indicates a member of the inner bar, and Doctor of law, for those who have obtained a PhD in law. Some lawyers have the additional honour of being made a Knight Bachelor for their service to the legal profession and their contribution to the society they serve. There is debate over whether law should be taught as a subject in schools, although some governments have introduced it in high school curriculums. Others have abolished compulsory law at the senior level. Some universities have specialist law schools.