Law is a system of rules that regulates the conduct of a community and is often enforced by a controlling authority through penalties. It is also the name of a field of study that combines elements of social science, philosophy and history. Its unique features distinguish it from other disciplines and sciences, particularly its normative and prescriptive character.
Law is an activity that is part of the human experience, and its success depends on its ability to match the individual participant’s story with a collective narrative. The concordance between these two is the test for whether or not a person’s interpretation of the law is correct.
A legal society is one that has a stable constitutional system of government, the rule of law and civil rights. The rule of law requires all people, public and private institutions and the state itself to be accountable under laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated. This principle of lawfulness ensures that all people have access to justice regardless of wealth or status, and that core human, procedural and property rights are enshrined in the law.
The legal system varies from country to country, with most modern nation-states employing either a common law or a civil law regime. In a common law system, the laws are derived from the decisions of judges in a courtroom, and they are compiled in a book called case law. The civil law system, meanwhile, consists of a set of legal codes that explicitly specify the rules that judges must follow when making a decision.
International law concerns the international system of laws that govern the behaviour of nations and their citizens, mainly through treaties and other agreements signed by the member states. International law aims to promote peace and stability by setting out rules on such issues as globalisation, foreign policy, military affairs and the environment.
Domestic law is a complex field, covering a range of subjects such as land reform, family law and property law. Criminal law covers crimes, ranging from murder to larceny and defamation. Property law encompasses the rights that individuals have over the ownership of goods such as houses, cars or computers. The distinction between real and personal property is made by the right in rem, which grants the owner the right to the actual thing in question, and the right in personam, which provides compensation for a loss but does not give the holder the particular object back.
An understanding of the nature of law requires an appreciation of the factors that shape its evolution and development. These include the way that people understand the law, their perceptions of its importance and value, and the degree to which it is fair or unfair. In addition, the way that law is applied varies according to the socio-economic context in which it is developed and implemented. In the developing world, for example, the extension of military and policing power poses unique challenges to accountability that are not present in the developed world.