Law is a set of rules enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior, with its precise definition a matter of longstanding debate. It shapes politics, economics and history in many ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people. It is a key subject of scholarly inquiry in legal studies, philosophy and sociology.
There are two general types of law: civil law and criminal law. Civil law deals with disputes between individuals, such as lawsuits over property or divorce. Criminal law is concerned with conduct deemed harmful to society and punishes the guilty party by fines or imprisonment.
The modern formal sources of law are statutes or legislation and judicial precedent. Courts are bound to follow these sources of law in their decisions. There are also persuasive sources, such as customs, principles of equity or justice and professional opinions. These sources influence the development of law but do not make them binding.
Statutes or legislation are laws that a state passes, either in the form of an act or as a code. These laws are generally written in a clear and unambiguous manner to be easily understood by the judiciary. The judiciary, however, may not always agree with the reasoning or rationale used to write a statute. The legislative process is often a lengthy and complicated procedure.
There are many different forms of legislation, and the type of legislation varies from country to country. For example, in some countries, the legislature is a single individual or body, while in others, there are multiple bodies with responsibility for enacting laws. A common feature is that the legislature will have a committee which scrutinizes the legislation before it is passed.
The law is often interpreted by a judge or jury. A judge will decide if the evidence presented in a case is sufficient to support a decision, and will consider the arguments of each side before making their decision. The judge will also determine the legal precedents for a case and will consider the facts of the case, including any previous similar cases, in reaching their decision.
An important aspect of the legal system is the constitutional guarantee that a defendant in a criminal case will receive a fair trial. This is ensured by the right to counsel, the principle that each defendant has a lawyer who will assist them in their defense. Another important aspect is the right to a speedy trial, which is a constitutional right in criminal cases and an essential part of the due process of law in civil trials. Other aspects of the legal system include the right to privacy, the right to freedom of religion and the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. These aspects of the legal system are important for human rights and the development of an ethical society. They are also important for ensuring the proper operation of democracy and the rule of law. Without the rule of law, there is no security for liberty or property, and a person cannot expect to be treated fairly by his or her government.