Law is a system of rules created and enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate human behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate. It has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice.
Laws govern almost every aspect of our lives – from what we can and cannot eat to how we can go about earning a living. They govern how people interact with each other and with the environment and provide a framework for society. They also give people a sense of security, as they know that there are consequences for their actions and that these penalties will be enforced by the authorities if they break the law.
The laws of most countries are made by a legislature, or parliament, which is elected by the people. In many countries there is a separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government to ensure that one branch does not become so powerful that it becomes above the law.
Most countries that have a common law legal system still rely on ancient maxims, or judicial decisions, to determine what the law is in a particular case. These maxims – such as “a judge should not rule in his own cause” and “rights are reciprocal to obligations” – guide the judgement of judges in cases.
In addition to these old maxims, a judge has other factors that they can use in deciding what the law is. These may include the precedent of other courts and legislation, the broader policies or philosophy behind the law and the rationales given in previous decisions in similar cases.