Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Laws may be made by a legislature through statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or by judges through the doctrine of precedent (stare decisis). Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts. Laws are usually enforced through penalties, such as fines or imprisonment. Laws serve a variety of purposes, including establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights.
The precise nature of law is a source of ongoing debate. Some see it as an expression of a state’s will, while others view it as a reflection of the way people naturally behave or want to be. The concept of law has been compared to other sciences and disciplines, such as natural science (such as the laws of gravity), empirical science (such as the laws of thermodynamics), or even social science (such as the law of supply and demand).
Some countries, such as the United States, employ a common law system wherein judges decide cases by relying on the precedent of previous court decisions. This is in contrast to civil law systems, where the courts have a set of specific rules that must be followed in arriving at a decision.
A number of fields within law have developed in recent years. Space law, for example, addresses the implications of human activities in Earth orbit and outer space, while tax law covers a range of issues relating to value added tax, corporate tax, income tax, and banking law. Banking law involves regulation aimed at safeguarding the stability of the financial system, and insurance law deals with the rules governing the granting of policies and coverage of risks.
Whether or not the law is a reflection of the nature of human beings, it is important to remember that the enshrinement of core human rights in a society is crucial for its overall well-being. It is also essential that people face consequences for breaking the law, regardless of their wealth or status, and that mechanisms are in place to prevent abuses of power.
Many aspects of law are complex and technical. To better understand the topic, it is useful to define a few key terms: