What is Law?

Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour and has been variously described as an art or a science. The precise definition of Law is a matter of longstanding debate and law varies across different societies, with varying degrees of formality and justice.

Law plays a crucial role in society, providing a framework for social order and preventing disorder. Ideally, Law should ensure that all members of a community are held accountable to the same rules that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated. This is called the Rule of Law and requires that State and non-State actors adhere to internationally agreed standards and norms that promote accountability, good governance, access to justice and peace.

In “common law” systems, judicial decisions are formally acknowledged as legal authority on equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process and regulations issued by the executive branch. This doctrine, called stare decisis, allows a decision by a higher court to bind lower courts and future cases, ensuring that similar legal disputes reach comparable results.

Law is a source of scholarly inquiry into areas such as legal history, philosophy and economic analysis and raises significant ethical issues. It has a profound impact on everyday life in a variety of ways and is found in many fields, such as contract law (regulating agreements between people for the exchange of goods or services), property law (defining people’s rights to tangible property, including land and buildings, and personal possessions, like cars and jewellery), criminal law (dealing with offences against public order) and tort law (providing compensation for harm caused by negligent or fraudulent conduct). All these subjects are covered by a vast number of sub-fields and overlap and intertwine.

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