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What is Law?

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Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, and it has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice. The purpose of law is to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, protect individual rights and property, facilitate social change in a stable and orderly manner, and provide for the welfare of citizens. Different nations use different legal systems to achieve these goals, and some systems serve these purposes more effectively than others.

A nation’s laws are largely the result of its political history. Most laws are formulated through a legislature, resulting in statutes, or by the executive through decrees and regulations, or established by judges through precedent, usually in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals may create legally binding contracts that can also be enforced by the courts. The laws of a nation are often shaped by its constitution, written or tacit, and the rights encoded therein.

The law is a powerful social force that can be used to keep the peace, maintain the status quater, protect individual rights and property, facilitate social changes in a stable manner, and provide for the welfare of citizens. The nature of the power that a nation’s law embodies is a source of great controversy, and the existence of differing legal systems in different countries is largely the result of the different political histories of those states. Attempts to reform or improve an existing legal system are frequently met with resistance by entrenched interests that benefit from the status quo, and in some cases are violently repressed.

Laws exist in a variety of forms, and law is a subject of scholarly inquiry in fields such as legal history, philosophy, economic analysis, sociology, and political science. Laws can be broadly categorized into three categories, though the subjects within these categories intertwine and overlap. Employment law involves the regulation of the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union; criminal law deals with the resolution of disputes over wrongdoings that harm society; and civil and criminal procedure concern the rules that must be followed as a dispute is resolved by a court (including evidence law, which decides what materials are admissible in courts).

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