The Nature of Law


Law is a system of rules that governs the relationships between people. Its principal purposes are to impose standards, maintain order, resolve disputes, and protect liberty and rights. It may be imposed by government or voluntarily by private individuals, and it can cover many areas of human activity. It is a complex topic, with many branches covering areas such as contract; corporate, tax, and bankruptcy law; insurance; property; and criminal law.

The nature of laws varies greatly from nation to nation. In most cases, knowing the legal situation of a country is a matter of understanding who makes and enforces its laws; a stable democracy will generally produce laws that serve the principal purposes of law. On the other hand, unstable or authoritarian governments may not.

In modern systems, laws are often made by legislative statutes or the executive through decrees and regulations. In common law jurisdictions, decisions by judges are recognized as laws, and the “doctrine of precedent” allows their rulings to bind lower courts. Private individuals may also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements, including a written constitution.

Historically, religion has played an important role in forming laws. The Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia are examples, and Christian canon law still exists in some church communities. However, a religiously based system of law must depend on human elaboration and interpretation.

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