Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It is a complex concept, with precise definitions varying widely. Some scholars define it as a system of rules imposing what is right and wrong on individuals and groups, while others view it as a social construct based on culture, tradition, or religion. Regardless of its precise definition, most legal systems include several universal principles: the law is clear and publicly available; it ensures human rights as well as property, contract, and procedural rights; it is stable as to time and place; and it applies equally to all people and situations.
In addition to these general principles, many different theories of law exist. For example, the Will (or Choice) Theory of rights argues that they function to make right-holders small-scale sovereigns over certain domains and enable them to control as a matter of choice their duties toward other persons or things. It also fits with Hohfeldian privileges and immunities, which are functionally similar to claim-rights and that give right-holders a degree of normative control over their relationships with other people or things (Hart 1982: 183-4).
Other theories of law focus on the functions of a law, including its ability to prevent conflict, preserve social peace, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice, and guide orderly social change. Despite these different theories, most scholars agree that the purpose of law is to serve the common good.
A legal system can serve its purpose more effectively or less effectively depending on its structure, government, and culture. For example, a nation with an authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo but may oppress its citizens or discriminate against its minority populations. In contrast, a democratic government maintains a balance of power between the governing body and its citizens while protecting their fundamental rights.
A law may be enforceable by the courts, legislative bodies, or executive branch of a government. The enforceable laws are called statutes, and they are often codified into civil and criminal codes. Civil laws contain detailed statutes that clearly outline the conditions under which a case can be heard, procedures for resolving claims, and punishments for offences. Criminal laws are typically interpreted by a judge or jury and are based on precedent decisions from previous cases. These precedents may be outdated or biased, but they remain in place until societal changes prompt a judicial body to overturn them. However, even when precedents are questioned or changed, the judges will base their ruling on a set of values. Therefore, the courts are a critical element in any effective legal system. These values include fairness, truthfulness, and impartiality. The legal profession is a highly valued one because it helps to ensure that these standards are met. In addition, it protects the public from the unscrupulous activities of corrupt businesses and individuals. In addition to this, it provides a way for citizens to resolve disputes with their employers.