Law is the set of rules, regulations and guidelines enforced by a governing body to maintain order and ensure justice. Its precise definition remains a matter of debate and its significance spans across politics, economics, history and society. Law has been portrayed as an art, a science and even as an instrument of social control.
The principal functions of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Each of these functions relies on the underlying fact that people and organisations cannot always achieve their goals without guidance and restraint. The existence of laws is therefore a necessary condition for stable societies.
There are four principal types of law: statute, common law, regulations and criminal law. Statutes are laws passed through the legislative process, while common law is a collection of judicial decisions. The principle that higher courts must follow the rulings of lower ones, known as stare decisis, is a key element in most legal systems.
Regulation concerns the provision of public services and utilities, such as water, energy and telecommunications. Criminal law covers offences committed by individuals, such as murder and robbery. Civil law encompasses a wide range of fields, from tort law to contracts and property law.
Each of these fields has its own peculiarities. For example, labour law studies a tripartite industrial relationship between employer, worker and trade union. Property law concerns the ownership and transfer of private property, including land, vehicles and financial assets.