Law refers to the set of rules that govern people, societies and economies. It includes everything from the most general principles of human behaviour to specific regulations in areas such as banking and taxation. It is an important source of scholarly inquiry in fields such as legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. It also raises important and complex issues regarding equality and justice.
The main purposes of law include establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. However, the exact nature of the content of law is not clear and is highly dependent on the way humans think. This makes it difficult to define objectively.
In most modern nation-states, laws are formulated through a process of legislative procedure, i.e. a legislative body (such as an assembly or parliament) decides on a given piece of legislation and then votes on it. The legislative body may be comprised of a large or small group of individuals, and the fact that it is composed of human beings implies that it may be corrupted by personal biases or by the interests of powerful individuals who are seeking to impose their will on others.
In contrast, in common law countries, decisions by courts are recognised as law on an equal footing with statutes passed through the legislative process. This is called the “doctrine of precedent” or stare decisis and it assures that similar cases will reach similar conclusions.