Law is a system of rules that a society or government develops to deal with crime, business agreements, and social relationships. It can also refer to the profession of those who work in this system by advising people about the law, representing them in court, and giving decisions and punishments.
Many different theories exist about the nature of law. Some view it as a manifestation of societal norms and beliefs, while others focus on the laws that naturally occur in nature. Still others believe that law is an evolutionary process, with each generation developing a new set of laws that reflect the current culture and needs of a society.
A person who is charged with breaking a law may be subject to a fine, imprisonment, or a combination of both. A judge must make the final decision on whether a violation of law has occurred and if so, what the appropriate punishment should be. The justices of a court must ensure that each case is dealt with fairly and equitably. This means that a judge cannot show favoritism or bias when deciding cases.
In the United States, laws are published in legal books called statutes, codes, or statute books. They are usually written in the form of paragraphs that are organized into chapters or articles. A chapter or article of a statute may refer to a specific topic, such as contract law or tort law. Some statutes are published in slip laws, single sheets or pamphlets containing the text of the law. At the end of each session, Congress passes a series of slip laws which are then compiled into the U.S. Statutes at Large, which contains most laws passed by the Congress and then enacted into law.
Another type of law is common law, which is based on the principle that judges decide cases according to previous judgments and common sense. Sir William Blackstone, an English jurist, developed this view of law and wrote about it in his book Commentaries on the Laws of England. His views of the law were highly influential on the Founding Fathers in America. Blackstone viewed the law as comprised of four types: the law of nature, the law of revelation (Scripture), the law of humankind, and divine law.
One criticism of a strict formal conception of the law is that it can give too much power to lawyers and government agencies, resulting in a culture of bureaucratic rule-following. This can inhibit the ability of a society to make decisions about important issues such as how to organize its economic or political systems. Also, excessive reverence for the law can lead to a lack of critical analysis and real-world consideration of how a policy will actually affect a given population or situation. These criticisms have led some people to argue for a less formal, more democratic interpretation of the law. Others, however, have argued that any kind of legal rule is better than no law at all.