The Study of Law

Law is the system of rules that a society or government develops to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. It is enforced by a controlling authority and, when broken, is punished with sanctions. The study of law can encompass a wide range of subjects, from legal ethics and history to the development of specific types of law.

The most basic function of law is to establish the limits on a government’s power. It also serves to preserve individual rights, maintain the status quo and provide for orderly social change. However, different laws and systems serve these functions differently. For example, a democratic law-making process may create more stable societies than one that is run by an authoritarian regime. Nevertheless, in many places the law is abused and the aspirations of some people to live with greater freedoms or equality are often thwarted by those who hold the political and legal power.

Different countries use different systems of law. The United States, for instance, employs a common law system where the law comes from judicial decisions and is compiled into books called case law. Other nations have civil law systems where legislative statutes and judicial decisions are codified into a written code. In either case, the judicial decisions are binding on other courts, a practice known as stare decisis.

Some law is explicitly religious, for example, Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia. These laws are based on religious precepts and further elaborated through interpretation (Qiyas and Ijma), analogy, consensus and precedent. Other religions have a less formal legal system, such as Christian canon law, that survives in some church communities.

Other areas of law include the regulation of banking and finance (such as capital requirements and rules about best practices in investment), public utilities, such as water or electricity, and trade. These are typically regulated by government agencies and are subject to the “arbitrary and capricious” review that has come to be expected of all government decisions.

There is also a growing area of law that applies to the biosciences and other sciences. This is sometimes called biolaw or science law and is a subject of research and debate. Laws in this area are often more complex and have a greater awareness of ethical considerations than those dealing with other matters. Laws that regulate cultural heritage are subject to a growing controversy. This is because of an argument that preserving culture by law is a form of property that impedes the free flow of information. This is a topic of particular interest to those in the academic field of study of cultural studies.