Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has been variously described as a science and an art. The core purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. It also raises fundamental questions about equality, fairness and justice. Law is one of the most fascinating subjects to study and is a rich source of scholarly inquiry in fields such as legal history, philosophy, sociology and economic analysis.
Law, as a discipline, is complex from a methodological standpoint. Its normative character makes it different from other sciences, such as natural (e.g. the laws of gravity) and social (e.g. the laws of human behaviour). It is also inherently incomplete, as it cannot cover all situations arising from human activity.
A wide range of legal subjects can be broadly grouped into three categories, though they often intertwine and overlap. These include labour law, civil law and criminal law. Labour law is the study of a tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union, and involves issues such as wage regulation, rights to strike and collective bargaining. Civil law includes areas such as tort (where compensation is awarded for damage caused to property or person) and contract law, while criminal law deals with offences against a state, whether terrorism, murder or defamation of character.
These broad categories may be further subdivided into more specific topics such as administrative law, corporate law, constitutional law and family law. The legal system is also influenced by the constitution of a country or region, whether written or tacit, and the principles encoded in it. International law concerns the laws that are derived from and codified in treaties and conventions.
The nature of law makes it unique from other sciences and disciplines. Unlike empirical sciences, which can provide evidence about natural processes, laws of human behaviour cannot be verified empirically and thus lack the solidity and confidence of other scientific facts. In addition, laws of human behaviour impose precepts that are outside the limits of human capability and can only be enforced by the power of governments or judges.
These peculiarities make law a topic of intense interest, spawning many important debates and inspiring writers such as Oliver Wendell Holmes and Thomas Hobbes. In particular, a debate continues about the extent to which the judiciary should be independent of political considerations. It is possible that some of these debates will lead to changes in the way we approach and think about the law. In the meantime, a good understanding of the law is essential for everyone in modern society, from students through to businesspeople. In particular, it is crucial for those who wish to understand the workings of a democratic government and their responsibilities towards citizens. It is a vital tool for ensuring that the government operates in an ethical and accountable manner and protects its citizens’ liberties.