Law is the set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate human behavior. Laws are meant to keep people safe, protect property and provide justice for everyone, regardless of wealth or status. Laws are usually enforceable by a central authority, such as the police, judiciary or military. Law is a complex topic and its precise definition is an ongoing subject of debate. It is also a field of study, known as legal philosophy and jurisprudence.
For an overview of law as it is applied to specific topics, see articles on censorship; crime and punishment; law of war; prisons; the military; and private property rights. For more general discussions of law, see the articles on legal profession; legal education; and legal ethics.
A fundamental aspect of law is that it is a system of societal regulation that requires the cooperation of all participants in society. The process of creating law reflects the complexity of human interaction and has a profound influence on the way that societies are organized.
In most cases, the creation of law involves a compromise between the interests of different groups in a given community. The resulting laws may be unjust or unfair, and they often reflect the cultural background of the society in which they are created. This cultural context can have a significant impact on how people understand the law and how they interpret it.
Despite the wide range of laws that exist in the world, there are many common features between them. One important element of the law is that it must be consistent. This means that the same principles must be upheld in all situations. In addition, the law must be accessible to all people and should not discriminate against any group or individual.
The most common law is written statutes, or legislation, that has been passed by a legislative body. Another type of law is common law, or case law, which is a body of judicial decisions that become the basis for future rulings. In the case of common law, past rulings may remain in place even if they are deemed unfair or biased, unless a judicial body decides to overturn them.
A key challenge to the rule of law is that it is difficult to determine who has the power to create and enforce laws. This is because the political landscape is very different from nation to nation, and people who possess a lot of economic or military power can often use that influence to shape the legal environment. In many nations, the law does not serve its principal function of guaranteeing basic constitutional rights and the safety of citizens. This can lead to revolutions, uprisings and other attempts to reform the law. Some examples of laws that are controversial are slavery, apartheid, abortion and capital punishment.