Law is a body of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions that govern behavior. It is the foundation of most nation-states (as they are called in international law) and provides a framework for establishing equality and fairness. It also serves as a source of scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, and economic analysis.
In “civil law” systems that today are found around the world, the sources of law are legislative statutes and decisions of the courts. Decisions by higher courts are deemed binding on lower courts and future cases, a principle known as stare decisis. This is in contrast to “common law” legal systems where legislative statutes and regulations are not explicitly acknowledged as law, but which developed a large body of case law over the centuries.
While the precise definition of law is a matter of debate, it is generally recognized that the primary function of law is to establish and enforce the rights and responsibilities of individuals in society. It is also important for ensuring that people have access to a safe environment, the opportunity to work and be educated, and the right to life and liberty.
Other functions of law include the resolution of lawsuits between private parties, taxation, business organization, and financial regulation. Tort law compensates individuals who are harmed by the actions of others, while criminal laws deal with conduct that is harmful to the community. Business and commercial law includes complex contract, property, and insurance issues.