The Basics of Law

Law is the study of systems of rules that a country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members. This includes both public and private laws, as well as legal theory, such as that relating to human rights, family and employment law, and international law.

Laws of a nation are often imposed to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, protect individuals and minorities from majorities, and promote social justice. They may also serve to enforce contracts, prevent abuse of power, and provide for orderly social change.

The legal system that governs a nation is called its “law.” It can include national statutes, executive regulations, and judicial decisions. Traditionally, courts are recognized as the final arbiters of all such matters, and their decisions are held to be binding on lower courts.

Common law is a tradition of law based on precedent, or stare decisis (Latin for “to stand by”), requiring courts to follow the rulings of previous courts when deciding new cases. This allows for a consistent application of legal principles across time and places.

Some law systems emphasize the principle of natural law, which is based on a belief that all things are subject to certain unchanging and morally-ordained rules. In contrast, other systems are more oriented toward the concept of legal authority.

The legal system that governs a nation may be defined by its constitution, written or tacit. It may also be shaped by the underlying values, beliefs, and interests that determine the makeup of its population.