What Is Law?

What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules that governs behaviour, sets minimum standards, enforces punishment and provides for order. Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people. There are many different systems of law, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. A basic distinction can be made between (a) civil law jurisdictions, in which a legislature or other central body codifies and consolidates their laws; and (b) common law systems, in which judge-made precedent is accepted as binding law.

The field of law includes the study of legal history, philosophy, political theory and economic analysis. It also raises important and complex questions concerning equality, fairness and justice.

The main purposes of law are to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, protect minorities against majorities, promote social change and ensure that everyone has an equal chance to live. Some legal systems serve these goals more effectively than others. For example, a nation led by an authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it can also oppress minorities and impede social change.

Keeping the Peace

Law helps to keep order in societies by establishing and enforcing minimum standards of behaviour, such as not harming or damaging other persons. For example, it is illegal in most societies to inflict physical injury without justification. Laws may also set minimum standards for acceptable behaviour in public places, such as not smoking or littering.

Maintaining Order

The law is designed to keep the peace in societies by regulating and controlling behaviour and maintaining a sense of order. It also establishes the rights and duties of individuals, such as property law (which defines people’s ownership and obligations toward tangible objects, such as land or cars), and tort law (which compensates victims when they have been harmed by another person’s carelessness or recklessness).

Providing Justice

The objective of law is to ensure that society distributes its benefits equally and punishes those who violate social norms. This goal is accomplished by ensuring that all citizens have access to the courts and the protection of the law. This is achieved through the process of adjudication, which involves determining what the law is and how it applies to specific cases.

Laws vary from place to place in terms of their scope and content. Some examples are contracts, family law and ecclesiastical law. Contracts and family law cover a variety of transactions, from buying a bus ticket to trading options on a derivatives market. Criminal law deals with conduct that is considered harmful to the community, such as homicide or fraud.

Other fields of law include administrative law, which regulates government activities, and constitutional law, which defines the basic principles of a nation’s constitution. Administrative law, such as the constitution’s separation of powers, is an essential feature of a well-functioning democracy. It allows the government to function independently of the interests of private businesses, which are able to lobby the executive and legislative branches of the federal government for favourable legislation.