A set of rules that, if broken, can expose individuals or groups to civil liability and criminal punishment. Laws are drafted after taking into account what people go through every day, their grievances and requirements. It is a vast area to study and one that can be quite difficult to define, especially in its broadest sense.
The precise nature of laws is debated, and the concept of law has been analyzed by legal scholars, jurists, sociologists, and anthropologists. A broad view of the concept is presented, using the works of Sumner and others to analyze the structure and functioning of law as a complex social institution. The rudimentary forms of legal norms and legal actions that exist in all legal institutions are identified, and the process by which these rudiments develop into the wide variety of law as it exists today or has existed in the past is examined.
Different laws are formulated in different countries and societies, with some legal systems serving particular functions better than others. In the most general sense, laws are defined by a combination of the constitution, statutes and other legal regulations, judicial decisions and legal precedent, and the customs and traditions of the society in which they are embedded.
Legal systems are also judged according to their clarity, accessibility and the extent to which core human and property rights are enshrined in them. Laws are also judged on whether they serve their principal functions, such as keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, protecting minorities from majorities and providing for orderly social change.
The broad subject of law is treated in a number of articles. For example, to examine a particular country’s legal system, see law of nations; constitutional law; legal profession; and legal education. Articles dealing with specific areas of law are also available, such as agency law; air law; bankruptcy; carriage of goods; family law; labour law; maritime law; medical jurisprudence; property law; and the law of evidence.