Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition has been the subject of long debate. Laws can be created and enforced by collective legislatures, resulting in statutes, by the executive, resulting in decrees and regulations, or through legal precedent, particularly in common law jurisdictions. Laws may also be created by individuals, through agreements or contracts that are legally binding. The purpose of law is to ensure that a society adheres to agreed-upon standards and that disputes are settled peacefully, while protecting the liberties and rights of its citizens.
While the precise nature of law is contested, some common features are shared by all systems. These include the principles of legitimacy, equality before the law, and due process of law. In modern jurisprudence, the idea of “due process” refers to a series of procedures that must be followed before a court can decide a case. Due process is designed to protect the rights of the parties, including the right to a fair trial and to be defended by counsel of their choice.
Another feature of law is that it is inherently relative to the shape and limitations of the physical world. It cannot require behaviours that are unattainable or force people to do things beyond their capabilities. Therefore, the law must reflect the reality of human life.
The development of law is a complicated process. Initially, ideas for laws are developed by individual legislators, and then the bill is referred to a committee for study. If the bill is released from committee, it is debated and voted on. If a majority of the House votes in favor of the bill, it moves to the Senate. If a majority of the Senate votes in favor of the bill, it is moved to a conference committee made up of members from both House and Senate, where the differences between the two versions of the bill are worked out. If the conference committee produces a final version of the bill that both House and Senate agree to, it becomes law. Alternatively, the executive can refuse to sign a bill, in which case it is returned to the legislature with a message explaining why the executive vetoed it. In such a circumstance, the bill may eventually be reworked and passed by both chambers in an amended form. This procedure is called a constitutional convention. The process is repeated if the legislature changes the constitution itself. This is a rare event, but can occur when changes are deemed necessary.