Law is a set of rules that a society develops and enforces in order to deal with crime, business agreements and other social relationships. It is a system that shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways and serves as a mediator between individuals. The precise definition of law is subject to longstanding debate. It has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice.
Legal systems are diverse and a general distinction can be made between (a) civil law jurisdictions, where laws are primarily legislative and regulatory, and (b) common law systems where judge-made precedent is recognised as binding. The latter is a more flexible and less prescriptive approach, and allows courts to adapt the rules of the law to changing social circumstances by means of interpretation and creative jurisprudence.
An individual’s choice of action in a situation is the outcome of his or her rational decision making process. The choice is based on an intersection of an internal reality shaped by the individual’s narrative, and an external reality shaped by the narratives of the community. The deviation between an individual’s tale of legal inequality and the codified community narrative is a measure of the binding power of the law.
The legal profession, and the laws and procedures that govern it, have evolved through a combination of custom and tradition, social convention and state sanctioned formality. The discipline is a complex one, covering both criminal and civil law and regulating a wide range of activities. Generally, lawyers are required to pass a professional examination, complete a legal education and gain experience in the field before they can practice law. They also have to meet professional codes and standards.
Historically, the defining characteristics of a law have been its codification, judicial review and enforcement. In modern times, the determining factors are increasingly the public policy and social context in which the law operates, as well as its accessibility and transparency. The societal pressure for law to become more responsive to changing social needs has increased as the scope of government and private industry regulatory authority expands, and laws have responded accordingly.
In the context of a socially responsible economy, law is increasingly concerned with regulating industries such as utilities, telecommunications and energy. The legal basis of such regulation is often a combination of legislation and contract law. In some cases, the rules governing such activities may also be rooted in a sense of civic responsibility, with private companies taking on the management of services previously provided by government.
An example of a public law is a regulation that requires an airline to give its passengers compensation for delayed or cancelled flights. Private law, on the other hand, is a set of principles that regulates a particular activity on behalf of an organisation, such as a company or a person: The company owes a duty of care to its employees. A breach of this duty could lead to a lawsuit.