Law is a system of rules enforced by a controlling authority, usually through penalties. It is a central topic of study in many academic fields, including history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. It raises profound questions about equality and fairness in society.
Law shapes politics, economy and history in a variety of ways and serves as a mediator of relationships between people. The principal purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. In all societies, the law serves a critical role in ensuring that those who exercise power are accountable to it. Ideally, it ensures that everyone is treated equally and without bias, regardless of wealth or social status.
The legal system varies greatly from nation to nation, depending on who is in control of the government and whether it is stable or not. However, there are a few general principles that must be in place to ensure that the laws are consistent and fair. They must be publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated. In addition, they must be compatible with international human rights norms and standards.
A major area of research in law is the development of systems that are consistent, fair and transparent to the public. These require adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law and freedom of expression. They also require measures to encourage participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and separation of powers.
Laws govern almost all aspects of human activity, from the smallest personal decisions to the largest policy issues. They regulate trade, impose penalties, define property ownership and establish the rights and duties of citizens. They must be interpreted and applied by trained legal professionals. This requires extensive research and the ability to analyze a wide range of sources, including legislation, case law and professional opinions.
In the United States, for example, we have a common law system where judicial decisions are acknowledged as law on equal footing with statutes passed by legislatures and regulations issued by the executive branch. This system is based on the principle of stare decisis, which means that the law established by a court in one case will bind courts in future cases.
In most countries, however, the law is written in a legislative code that defines specific topics and provides rules for their interpretation. These laws may be enforced by a regulatory body, such as a department of health or an industry self-regulatory organization. In some cases, these bodies are independent of the legislature. In other cases, they are part of the legislature, as is the case in Canada. These laws may be published in a series of statutes called the Canadian Statute Book (CSR). The Law in Canada is often referred to as the Law of the Land or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.