Law is the set of rules that govern behavior in a given area or territory, such as crime, business, social relationships, property and finance. It is controlled and enforced by a controlling authority, usually a government.
Often, legal systems are organized around a written constitution. Some jurisdictions also have codified laws that are used by judges to make decisions in cases.
The term law is derived from the Latin word legis, meaning “a rule.” It can be applied to an authoritative commandment issued by a ruler or to a prescribed form of conduct that imposes obligation on its subjects. The word can also be used to refer to the field of law, or to a person who works in the field of law.
There are many different ways to define law, and different kinds of legal systems. Some examples include the common law, civil law, Islamic law and customary law.
In biblical times, the term “law” was often used to mean a specific precept from the Mosaic law. The word can also be used to mean a principle of conduct or a set of guidelines communicated through teaching.
Definitions of law vary based on the country in which it is used. For instance, in the United States, law is often defined as a system of judicial decisions that have been made. In some other countries, such as Japan and Canada, the word is used to describe a system that relies on codes that provide the rules that judges must follow in order to come to a decision.
One important characteristic of law is its coercive nature. It serves to enact social wants through the actions of people.
Another characteristic of law is its power to shape history, economics and society. It is a powerful tool of social engineering, where conflicting pulls of political philosophy, economic interests and ethical values struggled for recognition against a background of history, tradition and legal technique.
Some definitions of law have the added implication that it is a means of social control, where a centralized body (the state) makes decisions in its interest and uses these decisions as a basis for social policy.
Other definitions have the broader, more practical implication that law is a tool of social regulation, where people use it to make laws that are meant to protect certain groups of people from others.
These definitions have important limitations and differences, but they generally share the same core premise: that law is a means of social control that is coercive in nature.
Normatively, many have thought of legal rights as (at least ideally) reflective of natural rights, that is of moral rights not depended on enforcement or social convention, or recognition; a view rooted in the natural law tradition.
Typically, though not always, legal rights are conceived in Hohfeldian forms, and they typically entitle right-holders to rights such as immunity from inheritance, exemption from infringement or remedial rights, as well as powers to claim such privileges and liberties.