The Basics of Law
The Law is a collection of rules governing human behavior. These rules are enforced by a state and can range from those that regulate business transactions to criminal punishments. Generally speaking, laws are based on the concept of right and wrong. However, the complexity of the study of law arises from deeper dimensions — namely the normative nature of legal statements and the fact that they have prescriptive power. This makes them different from normative statements in empirical science (like the law of gravity) or social science (such as a market-based economic theory).
In common law systems, judicial decisions are considered to be on equal footing with statutes passed by legislature and regulations issued by executive agencies. This is known as the doctrine of stare decisis, Latin for “to stand by decisions” and it implies that judges are bound to follow previous rulings on similar situations in future cases. This allows the law to be adapted and shaped by the changing needs of society.
The most fundamental function of a law is to define the limits of government authority. This is why it is important to know who makes and enforces the law in a country. In many countries with strong democratic institutions, this can be easily determined; in other places, however, determining the source of law is much more challenging. This is especially true because the political landscape is vastly different from nation to nation. In the latter case, it is important to understand how a government gains and maintains its power so that the law can serve the people rather than the other way around.