A system of rules enforceable through penalties by a government, and sometimes by private individuals, for the good of society. These may be created by a legislature, resulting in statutes; compiled through precedent, as in the case law of common law systems; or derived from natural justice, as in a code of civil law like that of France. Those who practise the law are called lawyers, judges and magistrates. They achieve a distinct professional identity through specified procedures (such as passing a qualifying examination), and are often formally recognised by a government or independent regulating body.
The broad purposes of law are to keep the peace and maintain the status quo, to preserve individual freedoms, protect minorities from majorities and promote social justice. Different legal systems serve these objectives in different ways; for example, a parliamentary democracy may combine the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government to prevent one party from wielding too much power over the country.
Laws cover a wide range of topics, from the air law of aviation to the criminal law of murder. The study of law is often concerned with the deeper dimensions of these laws, for example, whether or not a judge’s decision complies with the prevailing moral or ethical codes; or how far a court should go in interpreting a statute, regulation or precedent. The law also deals with specific areas of human activity, such as family law; labour law, which includes collective and trade union rights; and property law, which categorises and prioritizes a person’s rights to a piece of land.