Law is the body of rules a country or community recognizes as binding its members and enforced by a controlling authority. Its purposes are generally described as establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.
Several issues make up the study of law: the nature and sources of laws; the way in which they are applied, interpreted and enforced; and how the underlying systems change with time and circumstance. Law is also a system of specialized fields, such as criminal law, civil law, administrative law and constitutional law.
The study of law also includes consideration of the social and ethical aspects of laws. Whether they are based on traditional customs, the rules of a religion or a code of ethics, laws can often be judged in terms of whether or not they promote human dignity and fairness.
In addition, law is an area in which a great deal of debate occurs about the relationship between the law and other areas of society. For example, the issue of whether or not laws should be written in a way that is easily understood by non-legal people, is one that is often discussed. Another major concern is how the legal system interacts with other areas of society, and particularly the ways in which law influences the structure and power of government.
Different countries and societies have differing systems of law, with some relying on a common law system and others using a civil law system. In a common law system, judges are guided by decisions made in past cases and the compilation of these decisions is called case law. Other legal systems have codified laws, with each branch of government having a specific set of rules for interpreting and applying laws.
There are also differences in the way that laws apply to individuals and groups. For example, the field of family law is concerned with marriage and divorce proceedings and the rights of children. Business law encompasses the rules that govern the way in which companies are managed, including laws governing the ownership and transfer of property. In some fields, such as aviation and railroads, there are federal laws that preempt all state regulations. In other fields, such as employment law, a small number of federal laws coexist with a large body of state legislation.
The law is a complicated subject, and there are many different approaches to studying it. The articles in this section cover topics from constitutional law, public and international law to the more specialized fields of family law, environmental law and labour law. In addition, this article provides an analysis of recent changes to laws. This is particularly important in areas where there is a high level of awareness of current legislation. These critiques help to keep law in the public eye. In some fields, such as the environment, legislation is frequently amended to reflect new research and discoveries. This article is an essential resource for researchers and students of law at all levels.