Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. It can take a number of forms: a formal code established by legislatures, as in the ancient Athens, through decrees and statutes; or it may be formulated through common law, such as judge-made precedent, in common law jurisdictions. It can also be based on religious precepts, such as Jewish Halakha and Islamic Shari’ah, as well as Christian canon law.
Regardless of its precise definition, there are some important characteristics that all laws share. They include:
A central feature is a clear expression of legislative will, so that people can know what to expect from the state, and what it cannot demand of them. This is generally achieved through a constitutional system.
Other key characteristics are a separation of powers, with checks and balances on the political power of the state; transparency, so that citizens can easily see what the law says; and clarity, to ensure that the law is easy to understand.
The law shapes politics, economics and history in many ways, and is a major factor in determining the stability of society. It is a fundamental part of every modern country’s identity and economy, and it underpins the global legal system that exists today. It can shape social justice in a variety of ways, and is often a key element in human rights. It is a crucial aspect of the process of international conflict and resolution, as well as peacebuilding.