Law is the body of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate. In modern usage, it is generally understood to refer to a system of commands or principles prescribed by a government, enforceable by the threat of sanctions or punishment, that must be obeyed by members of an organized jural society. Laws can be made by a group legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or established by judges through precedent, as in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals may also create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that adopt alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation.
The law can be divided into two broad categories, criminal and civil. The former applies to violations of public morals, while the latter deals with disputes between private parties. The law can be further subdivided into constitutional, regulatory and procedural laws. Constitutional laws, for example, set the boundaries of a country’s political and legal systems. Regulatory laws, such as environmental and health regulations, are created to govern specific industries. Procedural laws, on the other hand, govern the machinery of courts and comprise rules about jurisdiction, pleading and practice, evidence, appeal, execution of judgments, representation of counsel and costs.
In a society governed by the rule of law, everyone is held accountable for their actions by laws that are clear and accessible. Laws provide guidelines for ethical conduct, ensuring that all citizens are treated equally by the state. The rule of law is an ideal that can be a difficult and time-consuming goal to achieve, but it is a vital component for societies wishing to maintain peace and stability, promote economic growth and prosperity, and foster human rights.
Legal systems vary widely across the world, with some countries relying heavily on one type of law over another. The specific legal tradition is often determined by a country’s history or adherence to international standards. Traditionally, legal systems have been classified as either common law or civil law.
Both civil and common law legal systems have their strengths and weaknesses. For example, a civil-law system emphasizes the responsibility of a professional judiciary and reduces the likelihood that lawsuit outcomes will be influenced by wealth and increases the speed and efficiency of court proceedings. However, it may leave parties feeling that their particular dispute has not been fully heard or that the facts have not been adequately probed. Conversely, a common-law system is thriftier with governmental funds and relies less on a professionally trained judiciary.