Law is the system of rules imposed and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition has been a topic of longstanding debate. In essence, however, law is a set of rules that establishes a framework to ensure a peaceful society. It does this by defining the rights of citizens, setting out punishments for certain crimes, and providing a mechanism to resolve conflicts such as when two people claim ownership of a piece of property.
The nature and extent of the power exercised by governments to create and enforce laws varies from one country to another, as do the goals of their legal systems. For example, some systems place a greater emphasis on written statutes and the principle of stare decisis (where decisions of higher courts bind lower ones), while others put more trust in judges to interpret and apply existing rules in light of new circumstances by means of creative jurisprudence.
The subject of law extends into virtually every area of human life. For example, immigration law covers the rights of people to live in a nation-state other than their own and to gain or lose citizenship; family law deals with marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody proceedings; and civil procedure concerns the rules that courts must follow as trials and appeals proceed. Other important subjects include property law, which encompasses both real – or’real estate’ – property and personal – or’movable’ – property; and criminal law, which defines the penalties for specific crimes.