Law is the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members. It is not a precise science, but rather a field of study that encompasses the history, principles, and practices of legal systems around the world.
The principal functions of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Different laws serve these purposes differently. For example, an authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it may also oppress minorities and limit social change. Similarly, a constitutional democracy may provide liberty but not necessarily the economic means to support it.
Law may be created by the legislature, resulting in statutes; established by the executive through decrees and regulations; or derived by judges, under the doctrine of stare decisis (Latin for “to stand by decisions”), whereby previous judicial decisions become binding on lower courts to assure that similar cases reach consistent results. Private individuals may create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements that adopt alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation.
Other topics in law include criminal procedure, which outlines the steps that must be followed by a citizen as he or she goes through a trial; evidence law, which governs which materials are admissible for use in a case; and family and employment law, which cover marriage, divorce, and the rights of children to property and money upon separation from their parents. The law is also the subject of many articles that describe its relationship to political structures, including constitutions; ideologies; political parties; and political systems.