Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate and it has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice.
The term Law is often used to refer to the legal system or body of laws and principles that govern a given area of human activity such as criminal, civil and family law. It can also refer to a code of ethics, the moral or spiritual values of an individual or group and their systematic application and enforcement by a governing authority.
One of the main purposes of Law is to protect people and property, to prevent crime, to maintain peace and order, to promote social development and change, and to settle disputes and conflicts. However, the precise functions of Law will vary from nation to nation depending on the political landscape and the balance of power in a given country. For example, an authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo but it is likely to oppress minorities or its own citizens and to fail to fulfill many of the principal functions of Law.
There are several definitions of Law that differ greatly in their idealistic and practical nature. For example, John Erskine defines law as a system of command that contains a common rule of life for all and obligates all members to obey. He argues that the command is an “ought” rather than a “may”. H.L.A. Hart defines law as a system of primary and secondary rules that comprise the legal order. These primary rules of obligation and privilege determine what right-holders ought to do (privilege-right), can do (power-right) and cannot do (immunity-right).
A more practical definition of Law is the legal concept that provides a framework for dealing with specific types of problems. For example, tort law provides a mechanism for determining damages in cases of injury to persons or their property such as car accidents and defamation of character. In contrast, criminal law deals with the prosecution of individuals who commit a crime against the state, such as murder and theft. Other terms that relate to the law are discovery – the examination, before trial, of facts and documents in possession of the opposing parties to help their lawyers prepare for the case; inculpatory evidence – evidence which tends to prove guilt or innocence; and in forma pauperis – permission from a court to proceed with a lawsuit without payment of fees on the ground of poverty. See also: law of nations, legal system, constitutional state, judicial process, jurisprudence, statutory law, common law.