Law is the body of rules that regulates people’s conduct and defines their relationships with each other and their possessions. Its main purposes are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberty and rights. Governments make and enforce law, but the way they do this varies from nation to nation. Authoritarian governments often keep the peace and maintain social stability, but may oppress minorities or control opposition. In contrast, democratic laws and parliamentary procedures are more likely to encourage peace and social change, but may not ensure that the law is fair or efficient.
The law encompasses a very broad range of topics, and a comprehensive study of it requires specialized training. However, there are three core subjects of law:
Contract law governs agreements to exchange goods and services. Tort law covers civil wrongs and responsibilities such as negligence. The law of evidence concerns what materials are admissible in court for a case to be built. Criminal law is a discipline that deals with the prosecution and defense of felony crimes.
A general overview of the law can be found in any textbook or online article, but it is important to understand some of the terminology and jargon used by legal professionals. For example, the term “injunction” is a type of restraining order that is usually granted without notice to the opposing party and lasts until a hearing can be held. An inculpatory evidence is a piece of information that tends to prove the guilt or innocence of someone accused of a crime. A grand jury indictment is a formal charge against a defendant. And a transcript is a written record of the spoken words during a trial or other proceedings.
In many countries, the law is a system of statutes and precedent. This means that laws are not enacted by individual legislatures, but rather established through the decisions of higher courts. Judges and barristers follow a doctrine known as stare decisis, which states that previous decisions set precedent and must be followed by future courts.
Throughout history, various forms of law have evolved from religious precepts and custom. Jewish halakha and Islamic Sharia still play a role in some societies, while Christian canon law survives in church communities. Law has also been shaped by military conquest and colonialism, with the result that different types of laws exist around the world. These variations are the result of differing political and cultural backgrounds, as well as the desire to balance competing priorities such as maintaining security, promoting economic development and protecting human rights.