Law is a body of rules or principles that regulates human conduct through the use of penalties enforced by a controlling authority. The term is also used to refer to a legal system in which laws are formulated through judicial decisions and statutes rather than legislative ordinances or executive orders. The study of these rules and their application is called jurisprudence, or the practice of law.
The primary purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. However, the actual functioning of a nation’s laws is influenced by its political and economic structure. For example, an authoritarian regime may keep the peace and maintain the status quo but oppress minorities or opposing factions within its borders (as was the case in Burma under Saddam Hussein). In contrast, a democracy tends to encourage free speech and protect individual rights, but it also may fail to provide an effective mechanism for social change.
The subject of law is diverse, and many fields of study touch upon it. Some examples include contract law, which regulates agreements between parties to exchange goods or services; property law, which defines people’s rights and duties toward their tangible and intangible possessions; criminal law, which imposes penalties for behavior considered harmful to society; and administrative law, which governs the activities of government agencies. Other fields of law include space law, which involves international treaties and regulations governing humans’ activity in outer space; corporate law, which establishes guidelines for company governance; and tort law, which concerns civil and criminal liability.