Law is a set of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate and has been described as both a science and an art. Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways.
The principal functions of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. There are four principal areas of law: criminal, civil, constitutional and administrative.
Civil laws govern the vast majority of the world’s countries. In these jurisdictions sources of law recognised as authoritative are mainly legislation (i.e. codifications or statutes passed by government) and case law – the rulings of judges in court cases which are then binding on other courts. In some civil law jurisdictions there is also a strong element of religious law, such as Islamic Sharia law.
Constitutional law, which is the area of law concerning the rules and processes that govern the national political system, is another major branch of the legal field. Other branches of law include tort law – which deals with claims of personal injury, such as car accidents or defamation; and public law, which deals with offenses committed against the community itself such as treason or terrorism.
Jurisprudence, the study of systems of law and how they work, is a growing field of academic inquiry. Other specialized areas of law include corporate law, environmental law, labour and employment law, intellectual property, tax law and real estate law.