Law is a set of rules that are enforced by the state to regulate behavior. These can be derived from the constitution, through statutory laws formulated by legislators and executive decrees or regulations, or they may be interpreted by judges in common law jurisdictions, where law is shaped by precedent. Laws can also be created by a private individual through legally binding contracts or arbitration agreements. Law can be used to regulate many aspects of human life, including business activities, the protection of property and people’s health, and the provision of public utilities such as water, energy, telecoms and transportation.
Law plays a key role in the lives of most people and governs a wide range of human activity, from relationships between family members to the activities of large corporations. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways, raising complex issues of fairness and justice. Law is also the subject of a great deal of scholarly inquiry into legal philosophy, theory and practice.
Legal systems vary in the way they function and their relationship with the constitution, political parties, social institutions and culture of a nation. These systems can be classified as either democratic, authoritarian or religious.
In a democratic system, the role of law is to promote and protect human rights, ensure social stability and prosperity, provide for effective government and public service, and allow for orderly social change. A legal system that functions in this way is generally characterized by a constitutional monarchy, with a democratic parliament and a judiciary empowered to interpret the Constitution and enact statutory law and regulations.
A democratic system also allows for a broad degree of autonomy for the judicial branch, enabling it to make exceptions to or add to statutory law through case law. In this type of system, laws are normally written in clear language and based on principles of fairness, equity and social justice. The system is also designed to be flexible, with codes avoiding excessive detail and including general clauses that enable them to be adapted to changing social circumstances through interpretation and creative jurisprudence.
A judicial system is generally designed to be impartial, transparent and accountable, with a separation of powers and participation in decision making. The modern concept of the rule of law combines these fundamental concepts with measures to ensure supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability for decisions, legal certainty and avoidance of arbitrariness. In a modern democracy, the judicial system is also often required to balance the interests of competing public and private sector interests in areas such as competition law (as in antitrust laws) or consumer protection legislation with the rights of individuals.