What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules that people follow to organize and control activities. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways. It also serves as a mediator of relationships between people. Laws are formulated and enforced by government bodies, including governmental agencies and courts of law. In addition, laws can be created by religious groups and some social institutions such as companies.

Legal systems vary greatly. Some countries have civil law and others use common law or a combination of both. In a “common law” legal system, judges’ decisions are recognized as law on equal footing with statutes and regulations passed through the legislative process. A key principle is the doctrine of precedent, or stare decisis, which means that past court decisions set binding legal precedent for future cases involving similar facts and issues.

In a “civil law” legal system, judicial decisions are less detailed than in a common law system, as they are only meant to decide one case at a time. Instead, a comprehensive system of rules and principles is typically compiled in codes, with the most important ones being those dealing with family law, property law, business law and the criminal justice system.

The purpose of law is to ensure that everyone behaves within the limits of what is acceptable. It is designed to protect people’s safety and the environment and help them achieve their goals in a fair and balanced way. Even in a well-ordered society, conflicts arise. For example, two people may have competing claims to the same piece of land. The law provides a peaceful way to resolve these disputes rather than fights that can be destructive and unpleasant.

Other goals of the law include ensuring that people are treated fairly by the police and other public officials, that businesses and individuals are not unfairly discriminated against, and that prisoners are sentenced according to their crimes. In addition, the law regulates the activities of certain industries such as utilities and telecommunications. For example, laws regulate the prices of gas and electricity and the quality of water.