What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that regulates the behavior of people and groups of people. It typically involves a central authority with the power to enforce and punish those who break the laws, usually through fines or jail time. The law may also establish standards for things such as property, safety and health. It can shape politics, economics and history in various ways. Law can be written and voted on by politicians in a group legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive, resulting in decrees and regulations; or established by judges through precedent, called case law. Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts, such as arbitration agreements, which use alternative methods to resolve disputes instead of standard court litigation.

There are two main types of legal systems: civil law and common law. Countries that have a common law tradition typically derive their laws from judicial decisions on cases brought to trial, rather than through legislative statutes or executive regulations. These decisions are collected into a body of law known as case law, and are often not subject to interpretation. Countries that have a civil law tradition, on the other hand, typically derive their laws from written codes of procedure that explicitly specify how judges should decide cases. In such a system, the decisions of higher courts bind lower courts, so that similar cases will reach similar results.

In addition to defining what can be done and not done, the law establishes the rules for how government officials do their jobs. The law defines the power of each branch of government, known as the separation of powers, and ensures that one person or group cannot become too powerful over the whole country. The law can also establish the role of religion in society, and how that influences beliefs about what is right and wrong.

The law may define the rights of people to freedom, property, privacy and public services like education, healthcare, military defense and policing. It can shape politics, culture and economics in many ways, and can be influenced by social movements and events. For example, the American revolution of 1776 influenced the framers of the United States Constitution to include a bill of rights to protect individual rights from government action that might violate those rights. The law also shapes international relations and diplomacy in many ways. It is important for the peace and security of a nation, as well as for global economics, commerce and human rights.

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