Law is a system of rules devised and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It is a source of scholarly inquiry in such fields as legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. Law has also provided a focus for public debate over issues of equity, fairness and justice.
The precise meaning of the word “law” is a matter of ongoing debate and interpretation. It may be defined as the ‘rule of right’ or a set of standards or principles governing human conduct, or as “a body of rules formulated by a community and accepted as binding upon its members.” The word is used to refer to both written laws (statutes and case law) and the ethos and practice of the legal profession.
Blackstone wrote that the common law consisted of “ascertainable rules, laid down in a series of precedents, and regulated by reason, and sanctioned by divine revelation.” He added that this legal code was permanent as to time, uniform as to all persons, and universal as to place. A later theorist, Thomas Aquinas, developed a different but related view of the nature of law. He emphasized the distinction between natural law and positive law. The former derives its force from right reason and views of man’s nature and constitution; the latter from divine revelation and the law of nations.
Modern law is broadly divided into three subjects, though the subject areas intertwine and overlap. Criminal law concerns the punishment of behavior that disrupts the social order. Civil law covers disputes between individuals and the resolution of lawsuits. Labor law includes the tripartite industrial relationship between employer, employee and trade union; and individual employment rights such as job security and minimum wage. Immigration law and nationality law concern the right to live and work in a nation-state, to acquire or lose citizenship and to be granted asylum. Evidence law covers what materials are admissible in courts for the construction of a case. Tort law provides compensation for injuries to people or their property, including defamation of character and automobile accidents.
Other topics covered by law include contract law, company law and trusts, intellectual property, family law, and civil procedure. The rules regulating the ownership and transfer of property are a major part of this law. Real property, or land law, deals with a person’s right in rem to a particular piece of land; personal property, or the right in movables, refers to a person’s rights in their possession such as cars and computers. This field of law also includes statutory systems for land registration and the regulation of mortgages and leases.