What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules created by the state that forms a framework for ensuring a peaceful society. If these rules are broken, sanctions can be imposed on individuals. Many cultures have some form of law. These rules may be derived from religious precepts, such as Jewish Halakha, Islamic Shari’ah or Christian canon law. The law may also be based on human elaboration, such as interpretative methods like Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) or precedent.

Law may be a formal document, such as legislative statutes or judicial decisions. In common law systems, a rule called “stare decisis” — Latin for to stand by decisions — dictates that judges must follow previous court rulings when making new decisions in similar cases. The laws of a country are often codified into a single book or collection of documents, such as the United States Code, which is published every six years and contains all general laws on a particular subject.

The primary purpose of law is to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect rights and liberties. It is important to understand how the law functions in a given country to assess whether it serves these purposes. For example, the political system may include a checks and balances structure to prevent abuse of power by a particular branch of government, or it may be that there are no formal institutions, such as an independent media, for citizens to raise concerns about the way the law is enacted and enforced.

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