Law is the system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. It serves several purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate.
The law may be established by a legislative body in the form of statutes or decrees, by executive action resulting in regulations or directives, or it may be made by judges through case law. It is also possible for individuals to create legally binding contracts.
Legal systems are generally categorised as civil, common or criminal. Civil law involves a judge-led system that relies on precedent, where an earlier case with facts and law similar to a dispute under consideration will ordinarily govern the decision in a later case. In contrast, common law countries typically have written constitutions, codified laws, and a professional legal class to make decisions on behalf of the state.
Criminal law involves the prosecution and punishment of offences against the community, the state or an individual by a magistrate or judge. The legal process in criminal cases often includes a preliminary hearing called an arraignment, where an accused person is told of the charges against him or her and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.
Other areas of law include labour, family and transactional law. The latter covers issues of business and money. The practice of law is also a subject in itself, involving areas such as torts and libel. Religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam also have their own laws through halakha, Shariah and canon law respectively.