The Law is a set of standards and principles that governs human activity, enforced by an authority with the power to compel obedience. Its purpose is to establish and maintain order, to resolve disputes, and to protect freedoms and rights. It also provides a standard of fairness and justice that can be relied upon.
A key part of the Law is that it is permanent as to time, uniform in its application to all persons, and enforceable by a court of competent jurisdiction. This principle, known as stare decisis, means that courts must follow decisions made in earlier cases on the same or similar issues. A court’s ruling on a case may be binding on lower courts within the same jurisdiction, or it may simply serve as guidance for future judges.
Law encompasses many different subjects, and its precise definition is a subject of ongoing debate. It is broadly grouped into three main categories, although they are sometimes intertwined and overlap. For example, labour law is concerned with the tripartite relationship between worker, employer and trade union; and civil procedure concerns the rules that courts must follow as they hear a case. Criminal law deals with conduct that is considered harmful to social order and which can result in imprisonment or fines; while evidence law concerns the materials that can be used to build a case.
The emergence of the modern science of law was the result of a process that was largely driven by economic analysis and a desire to improve the efficiency of government. It has become a source of scholarly research in legal history, philosophy, political theory and sociology, and is central to the debate about the nature of society and the role of the state.