Law is the system of rules established by a society or a government to control behavior and protect rights. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways. Law is the subject of a variety of academic disciplines, including legal history, philosophy and sociology. It also raises complex issues of equality and justice.
The main functions of law are setting standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The precise nature of law varies greatly from nation to nation, and different societies use their laws differently.
In modern “civil law” systems, laws are derived from both legislative statutes and judges’ decisions. The latter are called precedent, and the principle of stare decisis means that past court decisions bind future courts.
However, most civil law jurisdictions rely more heavily on legislative statutes than on the judge-made doctrine of precedent. In contrast, “common law” systems put more emphasis on judicial precedent.
Other areas of law include immigration and nationality law, family law (marriage and divorce), property law (rights to tangible property such as land or vehicles, and intangible property such as money or shares) and commercial law (contract law). Criminal laws are the most widely understood part of the law.
Religions also have their own systems of law, which are often based on religious precepts such as Jewish Halakha and Islamic Shari’ah. Christian canon law also survives in some church communities. These systems usually have an unalterable authority, but they may require human elaboration through Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), ijma (consensus) and precedent.