Law is the system of rules that a society or government develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements, and social relationships. It also refers to the profession of lawyers, judges and other people who work within that system.
There are many kinds of laws, each governing a different aspect of human activity. The most important are those governing human rights, the responsibilities of governments and businesses, and criminal justice. Other areas of law include property, commercial and tax laws.
A legal system is designed to serve many purposes, such as keeping the peace, maintaining social stability, preserving individual rights and freedoms, allowing for fair social change, and promoting justice. Some legal systems are more effective at meeting these goals than others. For example, an authoritarian regime may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it can oppress minorities and other political opponents.
In “common law” societies, judicial decisions are considered to be “law” on an equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process and regulations issued by executive branches of government. The “doctrine of precedent”, or stare decisis, requires that the decision of a higher court bind lower courts and future cases on similar issues, to ensure consistency and predictability in judicial interpretation and jurisprudence.
The modern concept of law is largely a result of the development of capitalism in Europe in the late 18th and 19th centuries, and the subsequent rise of nation states. The law of property sprang from this development, as did the laws governing business organizations, such as corporations and limited liability partnerships. Commercial and tax laws grew out of the need to regulate these new forms of economic activities, with legislation such as the Joint Stock Companies Act 1856 in England and the US Uniform Code on Business Corporations.