Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, and it has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice. Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways, and serves as the mediator of relations between people.
Law can be broadly defined as a social agreement or contract that defines and governs the relationships between individuals, groups and society at large. It includes the rights, responsibilities and duties of all members of society. Laws can be based on a number of factors, including custom, ethics and morality; religion; culture; or the practical needs of people.
The concept of law has evolved over time, as society and the world have changed. Modern legal systems include both civil laws based on centrally formulated codes, and common law systems, which are generally judge-made and rely on precedent. Most countries have both, although some only have one.
Many areas of life are governed by law, and there are many branches of the field. For example, contract law sets out agreements between people to exchange goods and services; it covers everything from buying a book to trading options on a derivatives market. Property law sets out people’s rights and obligations toward tangible items, such as land or houses; this can also extend to intangible assets, such as bank accounts and shares of stock.
Another area of law is administrative law, which addresses the way that governments and organisations are run. This is a very broad area, covering things such as the way that taxes are collected and the way that banks are regulated. Environmental law is a very important branch of the field, addressing regulations that protect and conserve the natural environment.
The field of law is constantly changing, and there are many different arguments about how it should be interpreted and applied. For instance, there is a wide debate about whether judges should be allowed to use their own sense of right and wrong when interpreting the law, or whether they should only apply the legal principles laid down by parliament. Other debates revolve around how much power should be given to citizens, and whether the laws that are made are transparent and well-publicised.