What Is Law?

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Law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It ensures that everyone adheres to a common set of standards and that both public and private actors are held accountable for their actions. Law can be codified by legislatures, resulting in statutes, or it can be established through judges’ decisions, known as precedent. Private individuals can also create legal agreements that are legally binding under a court’s jurisdiction.

The law’s purpose is to keep society peaceful, maintain the status quo, and protect individual rights and property. It enables people to resolve disputes without violence, such as when two people argue over ownership of an area of land. The law also provides ways for the government to punish criminals and protect citizens from corrupt officials.

In modern countries, the sources of the law recognized as authoritative are legislation (especially codifications passed by the legislature), judicial decisions, and custom. Civil law systems are used by about 60% of the world’s population, and they typically combine elements of Roman, canon, and medieval European legal practice.

Judges are considered the “depositories of law.” Blackstone argued that judges must be “living oracles” and were bound by their oath to decide cases correctly, not according to their own opinion or whim. However, a judge’s decision must be consistent and follow previous rulings in similar situations. The law must be clear, publicly available, and stable. It must be applied evenly by a judiciary that is accessible, well-trained, and diverse.