What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. The precise definition of law is a subject of debate, but it is generally considered to include:

The purpose of laws is to protect the interests of individuals and society as a whole. Law can serve a variety of purposes, such as keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, preserving personal rights, preventing oppression of minorities by majorities and facilitating social change and transition in a democratic manner. Law can also prevent corruption and provide for checks on the exercise of governmental power. However, some legal systems are more effective at fulfilling these goals than others.

A nation’s laws can be passed by a group legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive, via decrees and regulations; or established through precedent by judges in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals may create legally binding contracts, such as arbitration agreements, which resolve disputes outside of standard court litigation.

Laws are primarily applied through a system of justice, which involves courts and prosecutors. A country’s judiciary should be impartial in judging cases and determining guilt or innocence. Judges should not have any financial or political connections to the parties in a case, and they should not show preference for any side in a dispute. The judicial system should be open and transparent, so that citizens can easily obtain information about how the justice system works.

Individuals may also find themselves on the wrong end of a justice system when they are harmed by other individuals or companies. Such injuries can be the basis of civil lawsuits, which involve compensation for damages. Alternatively, crimes committed against the state or its inhabitants are the subject of criminal laws. In either case, the offender must be punished by a governing body to ensure the peace of the community.