What Is Law?

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Law is the body of rules, enforceable by government, that govern behaviour and relationships. Law can be general, such as a principle that any natural process that starts at one point always leads to a certain effect, or it can be specific, like the laws of gravity.

Legal systems differ from nation to nation, but most nations have some form of rule or law that regulates conduct. In most countries the law is made by and enforced by governments, either at a national or local level. Disputes between individual citizens are addressed by civil law, such as tort or contract law; offenses against the nation-state itself are handled by criminal law.

The laws of a country or region may also be determined by its history and culture, such as its religious or ethnic traditions. Laws are often codified in written documents, such as constitutions or statutes. In many “common law” countries, the decisions of courts are recognised as law on equal footing with legislative statutes and regulations. This is referred to as the doctrine of stare decisis, whereby previous court decisions bind future judges in a similar case.

A wide range of fields are covered by law, including international law addressing relations with other nation-states through treaties; space law, dealing with human activities in orbit and outer space; family law, covering divorce proceedings and the rights of children; and administrative or commercial law, dealing with such issues as taxation, consumer protection and business regulation.