What Is Law?

What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules enforceable by a government or society that regulates conduct and protects individuals and property. It establishes standards and enforces responsibilities and obligations in a given area of activity, such as crime, business, social relationships, property, finance and so on. The precise nature of laws can vary widely between polities and legal traditions; however, the broadest definition includes rules that establish a framework for peaceful co-existence. The rules of law are enforced by the state and are binding on all members of a society. If they are broken, sanctions may be imposed. The development and application of law is a complex, ongoing process.

Different types of law include constitutional law, which defines the structure and limits of a country’s government; administrative law, which relates to how the executive branch manages public resources; criminal law, which focuses on punishment for breaking a crime; and family law, which encompasses marriage, divorce and child custody. In addition, the law can be interpreted as a system of principles and values that guides a community’s social behaviour. This concept is known as the “rule of law”, and consists of the principle that all members of a society, including those in positions of power, are subject to publicly promulgated and equally enforced laws that are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.

The laws of a society are often created by legislatures through statutes and decrees; by the executive branch through regulations, executive orders and administrative rulings; or by judges through judicial decisions and precedent (known as stare decisis). Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts that adopt alternative methods of dispute resolution to standard court litigation.

Many disciplines and professions have a law component, including jurisprudence, which studies how judges decide cases; criminal justice, which relates to the police and courts; and corporate law, which involves business and finance. Law also extends to areas of life that affect the well-being of all, such as biolaw, which intersects law with the biosciences; and immigration and nationality law, which concern the right of asylum and the problem of stateless individuals.

Law has a major impact on the political and economic world. The law shapes politics, history and society in various ways and serves as a mediator between people. It can be influenced by a constitution, written or tacit, and the rights encoded therein; it can be shaped by legal philosophy, which attempts to articulate a theory of law; and it can be shaped by the culture and customs of a particular region and society.