Law is the system of rules developed by a society or government to deal with issues such as crime, business agreements, and personal relationships. It can also refer to the system of judges and lawyers who interpret, administer, and enforce laws. In a broad sense, the word law can be applied to any set of rules that dictates behavior and establishes standards.
The law has a variety of purposes, but four principal ones are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting rights. Some legal systems serve these goals better than others. For example, an authoritarian regime may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it can oppress minorities or political opponents. By contrast, democratic nations generally promote social justice and allow for orderly social change.
Many countries have several types of laws, depending on the needs of their citizens and the history of their legal systems. For example, civil law describes a comprehensive system of statutes created by legislators and arranged in codes that are easily accessible to jurists. The goal of standardized codes is to create a consistent and fair approach to judicial decisions, reduce bias, and provide room for the judiciary to adjust laws to new circumstances.
Other countries, especially those that do not have strong formal judicial systems, rely on customary law. This type of law varies from country to country, and it is often oral and case-by-case rather than written. It usually includes local traditions that greatly influence ideas of justice.
A third type of law is the common law, which is based on precedent and a reliance on the judge as the “depositories of the law; the living oracles.” It is also often called the natural law or the law of reason. This type of law emphasizes the importance of judging a case on its own facts, as opposed to interpreting it from a moral viewpoint.
Finally, some countries have special courts to handle terrorism cases. These can be separate courts that focus on terrorism or slightly modified versions of the country’s regular criminal courts. The underlying law, however, is usually the same as in other criminal cases. For more information on the different types of laws in a country, see that article. It also provides links to the country’s constitution, laws, and other articles about the government structure and other factors that affect the law in a particular nation.