What Is Law?

Law is any system of rules that a society or community recognises as regulating their members’ behaviour. It may be enforced by government agencies or private individuals. It can be created or amended by legislation, resulting in statutes; established through the executive by decrees and regulations; or judge-made through the doctrine of precedent (or stare decisis). The legal system may also have an underlying moral basis, such as the concept of deontology, or be explicitly religious, such as in Islamic Sharia law and Jewish Halakhah.

The broad fields of law include criminal law, property law, family and domestic law, business law, intellectual property law, and medical jurisprudence. There are also many specialist areas, such as maritime law and aviation law.

Law aims to protect the rights and freedoms of people, to maintain social stability and the status quo, to preserve individual liberty, to provide justice, and to stimulate orderly social change. It is a vital part of a well-functioning, civilised society. The precise nature of a particular system of law depends on the philosophy, culture, and history of its community and region. For example, an authoritarian state may keep the peace and maintain the status quo but may oppress minorities or political opponents. In contrast, a liberal state may be democratic but could fail to address important issues like poverty or climate change. Law may also reflect religion, with Jewish Halakhah and Islamic Sharia law rooted in scripture, while Christian canon law still survives in some church communities.

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