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Law is a term which does not have a universally accepted
definition, but one definition is that law is a system of rules and
guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern
behavior. Laws can be made by legislatures through legislation, the
executive through decrees and regulations, or judges through binding
precedents (normally in common law jurisdictions). Private individualscan create legally binding instruments, though not laws strictly
speaking, through for example contractual arrangements, particularly
arbitration agreements that exclude the normal court process. The
formation of laws themselves may be influenced by a constitution
(written or unwritten) and the rights encoded therein. The law shapes
politics, economics and society in various ways and serves as a social
mediator of relations between people.
A general distinction can be made between civil law jurisdictions
(including Canon and Socialist law), in which the legislature or other
central body codifies and consolidates their laws, andcommon law
systems, where judge-made binding precedents are
accepted. Historically, religious laws played a significant role even
in settling of secular matters, which is still the case in some
countries, particularly Islamic, and some religious communities,
particularly Jewish Halakha.
The adjudication of the law is generally divided into two main
areas. Criminal law deals with conduct that is considered harmful to
social order andin which the guilty party may be imprisoned or
fined. Civil law (not to be confused with civil law jurisdictions
above) deals with the resolution of lawsuits (disputes) betweenindividuals or organizations. These resolutions seek to provide a
legal remedy (often monetary damages) to the winning litigant.
Under civil law, the following specialties, among others, exist:
Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus ticket to trading
on derivatives markets. Property law regulates the transfer and title
of personal property and real property. Trust law applies to assets
held for investment and financial security. Tort law allowsclaims for
compensation if a person's property is harmed. Constitutional law
provides a framework for the creation of law, the protection of human
rights and the election of political representatives. Administrative
law is used to review the decisions of government
agencies. International law governs affairs between sovereign states
in activities ranging from trade to military action.