Law is the set of rules that a society or government recognizes as binding and enforceable. Its precise definition is a topic of long-standing debate. Some scholars define law as a system of norms and standards for human behavior that are enforceable by a controlling authority. Others use the term to refer to the specific rules imposed by a legislature or court in a particular case. Still other scholars use the term to refer to the body of laws that are passed by a parliament or legislative assembly. The precise nature of these laws varies widely from country to country, reflecting the different historical and social circumstances under which they are made.
The term law may also be used to refer to the rules of a particular court or tribunal, such as the arraignment procedure in which accused criminals are brought before a judge and told what charges they face. These types of laws are usually called statutory law or common law.
Statutory law is the body of laws enacted by a legislature, and common law is a legal system that relies on the articulation of judicial decisions to develop and establish legal principles. These legal principles can be changed by legislation. Judicial precedent, or stare decisis, is a principle that courts build upon the holdings of other judges in previous cases.
A court can decide whether or not to enforce a law, or to change a ruling made by another judge. If a judge decides that a law is not being properly followed or is unjust, he or she may order the other court to change its decision or to apply a different legal principle in the future. These kinds of changes are often referred to as legal reform.
The rules of a particular jurisdiction that determine the rights and obligations of its citizens and regulate business activities. These are typically formulated by governments and can include laws governing the establishment of businesses, employment, taxation, and privacy.
Generally speaking, the concept of the rule of law is that all individuals and institutions are subject to laws that are freely published, equally enforced, independently adjudicated, and in conformity with international standards for human rights, civil liberties, and good governance. This requires adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, and legal transparency.
The study of law encompasses many specialized fields of study, including criminal law, constitutional law, property law, and family law. A more comprehensive overview of the scope of law can be found in articles on the legal profession, legal education, and legal ethics. The law’s relationship to political structures and systems is delineated in articles on constitution; ideology; and political party. The societal importance of law is covered in articles on human rights; land reform; and social service. The law is an important part of the world’s social fabric, a field that continues to grow and evolve.