Law is the set of rules created in a society to control behavior, enforce contracts, and ensure social justice. It is the subject of many academic fields including legal history, philosophy, sociology, economic analysis and political science. Law also provides the foundation for the legal profession, government and a variety of business enterprises.
Law consists of both statutes and case law. Statutes are created through the legislative process, while case law arises from the decisions of judges and barristers. In “common law” systems, the decisions of higher courts bind lower courts through the doctrine of stare decisis. However, judges in a higher court may depart from a previous decision in a similar case where the facts and law are different.
The legal system varies from country to country. For example, civil law jurisdictions (like the United States and France) rely heavily on precedent while common law jurisdictions such as England and Australia rely more on detailed judicial opinions. Regardless of the system, law is always based on human interpretation and therefore cannot be empirically verified, as is true of most scientific laws such as gravity or the law of supply and demand.
The law’s role in regulating and restricting behavior raises important and complex issues of equality and fairness. See the articles on legal profession; legal education; legal ethics and legal philosophy for further discussion. The article on the legal system covers civil, criminal, evidence and bankruptcy procedures. Other articles deal with specific areas of the law such as ad hoc tribunals; arbitration; discovery; intellectual property law; medical jurisprudence; and tort law.