Law is the set of rules that people and communities recognize as regulating their actions. In most societies, this is done by a government, with citizens expected to follow the laws and face punishment if they break them.
Law has four principal purposes: to establish standards, to maintain order, to resolve disputes and to protect liberties and rights. It also ensures the rights of all members of the community and provides accountability for both governments and private actors, with processes that are accessible, fair, stable and efficient.
Traditionally, law can be split into two categories: civil law and common law. These systems differ in their judicial procedures and in how they distinguish between legislative statutes and judicial decisions (or stare decisis).
In common law legal systems, courts make a formal statement of their decision on equal footing with the legislation and executive regulations, whereas in civil law systems the judicial process is much shorter and the decisions are less detailed. This has led to a significant number of differences in the way different courts interpret and apply the same law.
One of the most important differences is that in common law jurisdictions, courts are bound by judicial decisions, which may have been based on prior precedent. In contrast, in civil law jurisdictions, judges are not able to rely on precedent.
Another key difference is that in common law jurisdictions, the underlying law is more clearly defined. In civil law jurisdictions, the underlying law is often not as well defined and it is up to the judge or barrister to work out how they will interpret the underlying law.
While this can lead to interesting results, it has also been the subject of a great deal of controversy. In fact, there have been many debates about whether or not the law is based on morality, or if it is simply “law” in the sense of commands backed by a threat of sanctions.
Some philosophers argue that law is based on an essentially moral framework. Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others believed that human morality was a natural law that would remain unchanging and inherently valid, while utilitarian philosophers such as John Austin and Jeremy Bentham advocated the use of a moral framework to guide law.
The modern study of law has embraced both of these approaches. It is now understood to be a complex, multifaceted, and often paradoxical discipline that has roots in ancient Greek philosophy and that continues to engage with modern theories of justice and ethics.
A central focus of this discipline is the role of rights, and in particular the question of what constitutes a right. The defining feature of a right is that it exists for or entitles the right-holder to a particular action.
This can be a specific physical act or it can be an abstract concept such as the right to vote, the right to free speech, or the right to privacy.
The definition of a right can vary from country to country and from time to time, depending on the political context. However, in general, a right can be said to exist when a person has the ability to change a normative situation through their action.