Law is the system of rules that a community recognizes and enforces to regulate behavior and provide justice. It can be enacted by a group legislature, resulting in statutes; by an executive through decrees and regulations; or by judges in common law jurisdictions, whose decisions are then binding on other courts (see stare decisis). Individuals may also create legally binding contracts. The study of laws is called jurisprudence.
Legal systems vary widely from one nation to the next. A country’s laws can serve many purposes, including keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, protecting minorities from majorities, and enabling social change through orderly transitions of power. The type of legal system used is important because it influences the way in which government acts toward its citizens.
Some countries have a common law system, where judicial decisions form the basis of law, whereas others use a civil law system that relies on specific legislative statutes. A country’s legal system can also be defined by its judicial procedure, such as discovery or a docket. In some countries, a court may expand its bench to a full panel of judges for certain cases, in which case the decision is said to be made en banc. Appellate procedures include arraignment, a legal proceeding in which an accused person is brought to a court and told of the charges against him or her. The right to appeal a court’s decision is known as the right of review.