Law is a set of rules that governs human behaviour and enforces them by sanctions. It has deep roots in a philosophy that considers human morality and the will of God or Nature. A major question in the study of law is to what extent laws reflect those higher ideals.
Most nations have legal systems that serve a variety of functions. These include keeping the peace, maintaining social stability, preserving individual rights, protecting minorities against majorities and allowing a degree of orderly social change. Laws are usually created by people with political power. The people can also remove these laws by revolting against them (as is often the case in places where dictatorial governments are the rule).
Many countries have a common law system that relies on judges’ decisions rather than legislative statutes. These judicial decisions are usually considered law and are often binding on future courts (a principle called stare decisis). In contrast, most civil law systems have detailed legislation.
In both common and civil law jurisdictions, laws are generally subject to review by appellate courts with the highest authority being the Supreme Court. These appellate courts have the power to remove or change existing laws that are unconstitutional.
Generally, a judge in a court of appeal determines whether someone accused of a crime is guilty or not. Judging is a highly subjective activity and a judge’s personal beliefs, values and ideas are likely to play into their decisions. This is why the professions of lawyer and judge are often controversial, with many debates about their philosophies and backgrounds.
There are a wide variety of fields in law, including torts, criminal law and contracts. Tort law provides compensation to victims if they have been injured through the negligence of others. Criminal law deals with offences against the state or community and may result in punishment. Contract law outlines the rules that must be followed by those making agreements.
The practice of law is a multifaceted area and includes the activities of advising clients, representing clients in court or defending them against prosecution. A law student may specialise in one of these areas or choose a general course to get a broad understanding of the legal system. A career in law is becoming increasingly attractive to young people. It is an exciting and rewarding field that can offer a varied and challenging lifestyle. For example, a lawyer can work in private practice, for the government or in commerce. There are also specialist areas of law such as environmental, labour and family law. Some universities have a centre of excellence in the study of law, for example the University of Western Sydney has the Australian National Law School. This offers a range of law courses at masters, bachelors and doctoral level. The school has a long tradition of teaching and researching in the areas of property, employment, torts and constitutional law. The university has a number of scholarships available for students to pursue a degree in law.