Law is the system of rules a society or government develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements, and social relationships. Its precise definition is the subject of debate, but most scholars agree that it includes a set of legal principles and procedures governing interactions among individuals in a society. It may be applied to criminal, civil, or administrative activities, and it can refer either to the body of laws that govern a nation or to a specific branch of law, such as criminal or business law. The term can also be used to refer to the people who practice law.
A central idea underlying the concept of law is that it establishes what is right and what is wrong and defines the boundaries of permissible conduct. In this way, it serves as a guide for human behavior and provides a moral framework for the decisions we make. The most important element of any law is its enforceable force: it must be binding, permanent as to time, uniform in all locations, and clear as to meaning. It must also be impartial as to persons, in that it applies equally to all members of a given community.
Whether it is the law of property, torts, contracts, or criminal law, laws are formulated, applied, and enforced by the government. The processes by which they are adopted, administered, adjudicated, and enforced must be fair, transparent, and efficient. Laws should be well publicized and easily accessible to citizens and jurists, and they must be consistent and stable. Laws should protect personal privacy and the integrity of private businesses. Finally, laws should be enforced by competent and ethical representatives and neutrals who reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.
The earliest discussions of the nature of law were generally centered on its definition. Blackstone, for example, stated that there were four types of law: the common law, the equity of England, the jus commune of the Church of Rome, and the common law of the colonies. He also suggested that there were many other laws that were not enforceable in the courtroom, such as natural law and divine law.
Another central idea underlying the concept of law is the nature and function of rights. The most widely accepted view is that rights are a kind of legal norm that determines what people ought to do or can do. These rights are also called privileges or powers. Some rights are active while others are passive, and they correlate to specific duties that correlate with them. For example, a person has a claim-right to a share of an estate, and the corresponding duty is that the executor must distribute the estate to the heirs according to the law.
Other kinds of rights include immunities and exemptions. For example, a diplomat living abroad does not have the right to be prosecuted for crimes committed in his home country. These kinds of rights are governed by international law.