Law is a set of principles and rules that governs the behavior of people in a community. It is based on social, ethical and religious values. People use law to ensure that they are treated fairly and their rights are protected. Law also protects people from harmful acts by others. There are many different types of laws. Some examples include contract law, property law and family law. There are also specialized fields such as labor law and environmental law.
Some law is written in documents that are called statutes, but most is developed through judges’ decisions in court cases. Judges consider the evidence presented and the facts of a case and then decide whether or not a particular law applies. The decision is then written down in a document called a case law, and it helps other judges decide similar cases in the future. Judges often base their decisions on previous court decisions, but they must always apply common sense to the case before them.
The purpose of law is to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights. Some legal systems do better than others at these goals. For example, a country with an authoritarian government may keep the peace but it may oppress minorities and suppress political opponents. On the other hand, a country with a constitutional system has checks and balances that limit the power of any one person.
In a society, laws are designed to meet the needs and expectations of its citizens. For instance, employment law involves the rules that govern the relationship between an employer and worker, including collective bargaining and the right to strike. Tort law provides compensation for harm caused by another person, such as injuries from car accidents or defamation of character. Immigration and nationality law determines who can live or work in a nation-state and what it takes to become a citizen.
The way that law is created is complex. Some of the most important concepts in law are not empirically verifiable, so it is impossible to prove that certain law contains precepts that we ought or should not be bound by. However, the nature of human thought and the shape of the physical world do constrain us from mandating behaviours that are beyond our abilities or forcing us to act in ways that violate the natural environment. Max Weber reshaped thinking on the extension of the state, and modern military, policing and bureaucratic power over ordinary people’s daily lives pose special problems for accountability that early writers such as Locke or Montesquieu could not have foreseen.