Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It is not easy to give a precise definition of law, and different people have many ideas about what it is. A common theme, though, is that law lays down a framework to ensure a peaceful society and that rights are respected. If laws are broken or breached, sanctions can be imposed.
A large number of laws govern a variety of areas of everyday life. There are laws that prevent cruelty to animals and that drivers must wear seatbelts. There are laws regulating the conduct of business and of the financial markets. There are laws that make it illegal to play loud music late at night, and there are laws ensuring a fair trial when someone is accused of a crime.
The exact origin of law is disputed, but it may be traced back to an ancient belief that natural and supernatural forces have a influence over human life. The concept of law developed as societies became more civilised and organised, but it has not always been consistent from one culture to another. For example, the Inuit people of the Arctic have a concept of law that does not separate the world into natural and human/humanmade things.
Modern law is generally based on written documents, although some cultures still use oral traditions. The laws of many countries are codified into books called statutes or constitutions. Some states have a legal system known as common law, which is based on the decisions of judges and other courts over time. Others have a more formalised legal system, with statutes and judges based on a body of case law.
Some law is made through political decision making, such as a parliament or legislature, resulting in statutes. Other law is made by a president or other executive decree, with the result being regulations. There are also laws that are a mix of common and religious law, such as Jewish halakha, Islamic Sharia and Christian canon law.
There are many fields of law, and they can be classified into three broad categories: private, public and regulatory. Private law includes such areas as property and contract law, and covers the rights of individual citizens. Public law is concerned with how government acts on behalf of its citizens, and can include such areas as criminal and administrative law.
Regulatory law covers the activities of regulated industries, such as utilities and energy companies. This category can be further divided into two parts: environmental and competition regulation. The law of the sea and international law are other important fields. The term law is also used to refer to a profession, such as a solicitor or barrister. See the articles on legal profession, legal education and legal ethics for more details. Law is an extremely complex subject, and it influences politics, economics, history and society in numerous ways. It is a source of contention and discussion, and it has been variously described as an art and as a science.