Law is a system of rules that society or a government develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. The word can also be used to describe the professions which offer people an opportunity to work in this area: lawyers, judges, etc. The study of law can also include the research of laws themselves, which can help us understand how they work and how they should be changed in the future.
The principal function of the law is to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals. This can be done by ensuring that everybody is treated equally under the same rules and that those in power do not abuse their authority. In many cases this is achieved by enshrining core human, procedural and property rights in the law.
Another function of the law is to ensure that people who disagree with each other are able to resolve their conflicts without violence. This can be accomplished through the use of mediation or arbitration, or by resolving disputes in the courts. The law can also ensure that people receive the same treatment for similar crimes and that everyone is able to access justice.
In a lawful society people often have a lot of disagreements about how things should be done and what is right or wrong. This is why the law is important. The law helps to settle these disagreements by setting out what is expected of citizens and the penalties for breaking the law. It can also help to keep a society organised and stable, for example by making sure that everybody pays their taxes.
The law can be divided into civil and criminal law. Civil law is the traditional system of legal practice in most countries today. It is based on the sources of law recognised as authoritative, which are legislation (especially statutes passed by parliament) and custom. This tradition dates back millennia, with one early example being the Codex Hammurabi.
When a new law is introduced, it will be tested against existing precedent. This can be helpful as it gives judges a framework within which to interpret the new law. However, precedents can also have negative effects on a case, such as when they lead to unfair marginalization or disempowerment of certain groups. Until societal changes prompt a judicial body to review these traditions, old decisions will continue to influence future rulings.
Criminal law is a branch of the law that deals with offences against the state and can be punishable by fines or imprisonment. It can also involve prosecution of organisations that commit offences against the state, for example a political party or a trade union.
In modern societies most lawyers have a distinct professional identity, which is established through specified procedures such as passing a qualifying examination and being authorised to practise by an independent regulating body, such as a bar council or law society. In addition, most lawyers have a qualification in a law degree which has been recognised as suitable for the profession, such as a Bachelor of Laws or a Bachelor of Civil Law.