A general term referring to a set of rules governing the behaviour of people in a social context. The precise definition of law is a subject of long-standing debate and varies from country to country. It includes both the rules that are enforced by the state and those that are enforceable through sanctions (e.g. fines or imprisonment) when they are broken.
A law can also refer to a set of principles describing a natural process such as the laws of thermodynamics. The concept of law is also used to refer to a set of rules that regulates the behaviour of businesses and organisations. Examples include tax and banking laws, which are regulated to ensure that they operate within ethical and financial boundaries.
The legal system of a country may be based on a common law or civil law framework, with the latter often relying on codes rather than statutes. The common law framework in the United States, for example, relies on decisions made by judges in cases that are brought to court, which are then compiled into a body of case law. Other countries, such as Japan, use a civil law system that is based on code, not case law. The scope of law is vast and it is a major topic of scholarly inquiry in fields such as legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. Law also raises important issues about the nature of democracy, fairness and justice that are not easily resolved.