The law is a system of rules that a country or community recognizes as regulating its members’ conduct. It may also be enforced by a controlling authority through penalties.
Law is used for many purposes, including keeping the peace and maintaining the status quo, preserving individual rights, protecting minorities against majorities, restraining economic interests, and promoting social change. Some legal systems are more effective in serving these purposes than others.
For example, a democratic government with a free press and independent courts tends to have greater accountability than an authoritarian government that has no checks on its power. The purpose of a democratic government is to protect the citizens’ civil liberties, including their right to free speech and freedom of assembly, as well as their private property, which is protected by the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment against illegal search and seizure.
Legal systems differ, but most legal systems include common and statutory laws. Common law is derived from judges’ decisions in trials, and it is compiled into a body of case law. Statutory law is enacted by legislatures and enforced through the courts. Some countries, such as Japan, use a civil code that explicitly prescribes the rules judges must follow in order to come to a decision.
A legal theory is a set of principles for deciding what the law should be. Some theories argue that law should reflect and promote social good, while others emphasize that the law should not be coercive.