Law is a system of rules and principles that governs human affairs. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways. Its four principal purposes are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Law also defines the limits of government power and regulates the behavior of its agents.
Legal systems vary widely from place to place, but there are four basic types: civil law jurisdictions, common law countries, religious law and Islamic Sharia law. Laws are primarily made by government and enforced by the state, but they can also be created or enforced by private organizations and communities.
A wide variety of laws exist, covering all aspects of life from marriage and divorce to business transactions, taxation and space travel. Some fields of law are more specific, such as the law of nations and the law of the sea, while others are more general, such as family, property and commercial laws.
The practice of law is overseen by an independent regulating body such as a bar association, bar council or law society in many countries. Modern lawyers typically achieve distinct professional identity through a specific legal procedure (successfully passing a qualifying exam and being formally admitted to the bar), as well as through a specific academic qualification (completing a law degree program earning a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Civil Law or a Juris Doctor).
Even in the best-ordered societies, people sometimes disagree about how things should be done. The law provides a way to resolve these disagreements peacefully and fairly by setting forth clear rules.
Whether the disagreement concerns property, relationships or money, the law can help people come to a mutually acceptable agreement. If the dispute is about a crime, the law can punish the wrongdoer by forcing him or her to pay restitution and/or serve prison time.
Law also protects human rights, especially freedom from cruel treatment and censorship and the right to life and liberty. The law also serves other important functions, such as ensuring that people are treated fairly and with respect by governments, police officers and other public officials.
The law is constantly evolving to meet the needs of society, and this process is referred to as jurisprudence. During the rule of Roman empire, detailed laws were developed by professional jurists. These codes were rediscovered and adapted during the Dark Ages, when medieval legal scholars compiled and studied Latin legal maxims for guidance.
In addition to changing with the times, the law must remain consistent with international human rights standards and other legal principles. These include supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making and legal transparency. These principles are often reflected in judicial decisions and in legal doctrine. They also inform the law-making process itself.