What is Law?

Law is a complex subject that shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways. Its many branches include criminology; contract law, which regulates agreements to exchange goods and services; property law, which defines people’s rights to land and other tangible assets such as cars and houses; and constitutional law, which determines the authority of government.

The law also sets standards for civil behaviour and settles disputes. It can punish those who do harm to others, or it can reward those who help society. It is a source of profound issues about equality, fairness and justice. It has a normative character (describing how things ought to be), rather than descriptive or causal (as in natural science, such as the law of gravity) and so is not easily classifiable as either empirical or social science.

Some countries use a system called civil law, in which a central body codifies and consolidates their laws. Other nations have common law systems, where judge-made precedent is the basis of their legal system. Some countries use religious law, which is based on scriptures. In addition, some courts have special jurisdictions for specific types of cases. For example, a court of appeals may hear only appeals from certain lower-level courts or tribunals. This is known as sitting en banc. In this way, a higher court can review a decision without the whole bench present. This is a useful technique when it is believed that the judgment was wrong, or that the procedure followed was flawed.

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