The Basics of Law

Law is the system of rules and regulations enforced by social or governmental institutions to ensure that people follow an agreed upon set of standards. These rules may be codified, resulting in statutes or ordinances, or they may be established by the executive through decrees and regulation or through judicial precedent. Law also refers to the branch of knowledge that studies these rules; jurisprudence.

A society in which laws are obeyed is said to be “under law” or to have “law and order.” A government that imposes law and maintains its stability through force, intimidation and other coercive means is considered an authoritarian regime. Conversely, a democracy promotes law and order through constitutional principles of fairness and due process.

Generally, the laws of a nation or state are created and enforced by a legislative body, often through committees. This legislative process is called a legislature or parliament. Alternatively, the law may be created and enforced by a single individual or group through dictatorships or other methods of autocratic rule. Regardless of the process by which laws are made, they must satisfy a number of criteria to be considered law:

While the law is intended to protect citizens from oppressive governments, in many places it serves a more practical purpose. It is a tool that can keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights and property, and provide for an orderly transition to a new social situation. Some nations have more stable legal systems than others, but the law can be abused by those in power just as any other tool can be used for evil or good.

In a society that operates under the rule of law, all people, regardless of race, religion, wealth or social status, are subject to the same consequences for breaking the rules. The law must be accessible to all people, transparent and understandable. There must be checks on the power of those in authority, and a clear separation between lawmaking and the implementation of laws.

The field of law is complex and diverse. Nevertheless, it can be broken down into three core subjects:

Contract law governs agreements to exchange goods or services and involves everything from buying a bus ticket to trading options on a derivatives market. Property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible property, which includes real estate (i.e. land or buildings) and personal property (i.e. clothes, books, computers and vehicles). It also encompasses a legal system of registration, easements, mortgages and title insurance.

Labour law focuses on the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union. This includes collective bargaining and the right to strike. Criminal law and civil procedure are the branches of law that deal with a person’s right to a trial or hearing and the procedures by which cases are heard. Evidence law deals with what materials are admissible in court. These core subjects are intertwined with several other fields of law that deal with specific topics, such as taxation, intellectual property and trusts.

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