Law is a system of rules that regulates society to ensure its members adhere to a higher standard of conduct. It is enforced by governmental institutions, such as courts and police, or through private means, such as contracts. It is based on principles of equity, justice and fairness. Laws may be made by a legislative body through statutes and regulations, or established through precedent in common law jurisdictions. They may also be interpreted by the judiciary, and thus are subject to judicial review.
Law encompasses a wide range of subjects, although there are three main categories: civil law, criminal law and administrative law. Civil law concerns the rights of individuals and their relationships with one another, such as a contract, tort (an injury caused by an accident), or property rights. Criminal law addresses offences committed against a community by its government or by its citizens, such as treason or murder. Administrative law, meanwhile, refers to the rules and procedures that must be followed by courts in conducting trials or hearings.
Law has many different functions, but four are particularly important: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberty and rights. The effectiveness of a nation’s legal system is measured in its capacity to meet these objectives. A government ruled by an authoritarian regime, for example, will keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but may oppress minorities or prevent social change. In contrast, a democratic government will meet these objectives and also promote social justice.