Law is a set of rules governing behavior, created and enforced by social or governmental institutions. It is a complex and highly debated area of study, with precise definitions and meanings ranging widely across cultures.
Legal systems vary greatly in size, scope and method of enforcement. State-enforced laws can be made by a group legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive, through decrees and regulations; or established by judges through precedent, usually in common law jurisdictions.
The United Nations defines the rule of law as a principle of governance that requires measures to ensure legal equality, fairness in the application of laws, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, accountability to the law and procedural and legal transparency. It also includes measures to protect the independence of the judiciary and promote legal certainty and avoidance of arbitrariness.
In most countries, political power resides in the legislative and executive branches of government. The government is accountable to its citizens through a system of civil and criminal justice.
It establishes standards, protects rights and liberties, maintains order and resolves disputes; it is essential for the security and well-being of the individual. It is also a means of providing a sense of community, promoting economic prosperity and ensuring that the individual has a voice in public decisions.
A central part of a country’s constitutional system, it governs all areas of life, including the relationship between individuals, the business sector and government. Typically, it consists of three main components: administrative law, which deals with government policies and procedures; constitutional law, which regulates the relationship between the people and their governments; and regulatory law, which sets out the rules that govern commerce, the media, religion, employment, immigration, and other aspects of public life.
Precedent – A court decision in a later case with similar facts and law to one currently before a judge or jury, usually one that the party seeking a change in the court’s decision must follow. It can be binding or not, depending on the particulars of the case and its influence.
Case analysis – The careful reading of judgments and reports of the court to discover what principles they support. This is an important aspect of law, and is known as legal case analysis.
In a civil law system, there is usually a great deal of precedent, which must be followed without exception or compelling reasons. The doctrine of stare decisis is a fundamental principle in most of these systems.
This is based on the idea that a court must uphold decisions of higher courts to ensure that future cases reach similar results. The law in these systems is often less detailed than the law in “common law” systems, where judges write to decide one specific case, rather than to lay out reasoning that will be used in a broad range of future cases.
A judicial court tries to ensure that the law it applies is as fair and equitable as possible, which may be difficult under a system of widespread political corruption or arbitrary or unjust power. It also strives to be fair and impartial in its handling of cases, especially when there are large numbers of different parties involved or when a conflict of interests is likely.