What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules that governs the conduct of individuals and groups. It is usually enforced by a controlling authority through penalties. Laws may be created by legislature, judicial decision or custom. Several theories of law exist, including those based on philosophical assumptions about human nature and morality, as well as more practical considerations such as economic and social efficiency.

People who study the law often come up with a number of different ideas about what law is, and these can differ significantly from one another. Nevertheless, most scholars agree that law is a system of rules created and enforced by a state or other authoritative body. These rules are designed to help ensure a peaceful society. Laws may also be created to control certain activities, such as criminal activity or business practices.

The laws of a country or region vary widely. Some countries, such as the United States, use a common law system, which relies on decisions made by judges over the course of many cases. These decisions are then compiled into a book called case law. Other countries, such as Japan, use a civil law system that is based on specific codes. The laws of a country can also be influenced by a religious tradition or cultural heritage.

For example, some countries still practice Islamic law, which is based on the Quran and hadith, while others have retained a colonial legacy from European powers, such as Roman and Dutch civil law in Africa or French law on the islands of Tahiti and New Caledonia. A key factor in determining the nature of a law is its level of stability and predictability, which are vital for facilitating planning over time.

A good rule of law protects against anarchy and the Hobbesian war of all against all, while allowing for flexibility to respond to changes in society and new needs through judicial interpretation and creative jurisprudence. It is also essential that all citizens can understand the law and access it.

A major goal of the law is to ensure that all people are treated fairly and that they have the opportunity to participate in their government. Some people, such as children and minorities, may be unable to do this on their own, which is why the rule of law requires that these individuals have special protections. Other goals of the law include establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. See the articles on these topics for more information.