The law is a system of rules that a society or government develops to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. It is often used as a general term for the legal system, although it can also be applied to specific branches of the law, such as criminal or civil law.
It is a difficult concept to define and its precise nature has been a source of longstanding debate. Some see it as a science, while others view it as an art of justice. It is a complex subject because it does not conform to the usual methods of empirical science (such as the law of gravity) or of social science (such as the law of demand and supply).
Law encompasses a wide range of topics, from the criminal law that punishes certain crimes to the civil law that provides compensation for property damage. It extends to the rights of individuals, from the right to freedom of speech to the right to a fair trial. It also includes the rules that govern a country’s economic and social institutions, such as taxes, banking, the movement of goods and the regulation of water supplies.
Some aspects of the law are common to all countries. For example, all nations have criminal laws against murder and theft. But most countries have differing approaches to determining what is and is not against the law. In the United States, the law is based mainly on decisions made by judges in cases that come before them; this compilation of case law is called “case law.” Other countries use a more formal code to determine what is against the law.