Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It is unique among the many disciplines that study human behaviour, as it is a normative rather than descriptive science (such as physics or sociology). Its precise definition is still debated and contested. It is a key focus of scholarly inquiry in fields such as legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.
The law defines people’s rights and obligations towards each other, and their property. It can also resolve disputes that arise in society. For example, if two people both claim ownership of a piece of land, the courts can decide who is the true owner. In addition, the law protects individuals against injustice and oppression by ensuring that those in authority are held to account by a transparent and impartial system of justice.
Laws and rules vary between countries, but most societies have some kind of legal system to govern their citizens and businesses. This system may consist of a code of laws, or a system of precedent based on judicial decisions. In some countries, such as the United States, the law is written down in statutes, while in others, judges base their decision on a body of previous case law. In most cases, the law is made by elected representatives, although some courts have non-elected presiding judges.
While the law can promote a sense of community and protect individual rights, it is not perfect. It can sometimes be used to oppress minorities, or to justify the exploitation of the poor by the rich. However, the law can be a tool for creating a fairer and more stable society.
In a democracy, the law enables ordinary people to participate in government, while holding those in power accountable for their actions. This accountability is achieved through checks and balances, such as a free press, transparency of government activities and mechanisms to prevent abuses of power. It also involves a public sphere of law, where the courts can be accessible to all and where people have a right to contest decisions by those in authority.
In some cultures, law is based on religious precepts, such as the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia. In these systems, the law is often considered unalterable, but a thorough and detailed legal system generally requires some human elaboration to make it fully functional.