What Is Law?

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Law is the system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It may be codified by legislatures into statutes, decrees and regulations or developed through precedent, known as the “doctrine of stare decisis” in common law systems. Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements.

A legal system aims to ensure that core human, procedural and property rights are respected by enforcing laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated. This is referred to as the “rule of law”.

In many societies, conflict and disputes can arise between people, even in well-ordered communities. For example, if two people both claim ownership of the same piece of land, the courts can decide who owns it. Laws resolve these conflicts and prevent violence.

Despite these important functions, there are often revolts against existing political-legal authority in nations around the world. A recurring theme in these movements is the desire for democracy or greater “rights” for citizens.

The precise definition of law has been the subject of debate, but all laws involve decisions and actions that can be enforced. A guiding principle of the rule of law is that all citizens are treated equally, regardless of their wealth or social status. This can be achieved by ensuring that laws are easily understood, transparent and accessible to all. It is also essential to establish checks on power, such as a free press and independent media, to protect the interests of society and prevent abuses of state authority.