What is Law?

What is Law?


Law is a system of rules that a community imposes to govern the actions of its members. It is a solemn expression of government will, commanding what must be done and forbidding what must not be done. It also announces rewards and punishments. Ideally, it should be permanent as to time, uniform with respect to all persons and universal as to place. The law may be derived from the bible, the talmud or the Quran or based on judicial precedent, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy) and Ijma (consensus).

A primary purpose of law is to protect society’s shared beliefs and values from conflicting individuals. Another purpose is to resolve disputes that inevitably arise between people having different needs, wants, values and views. Law provides a formal mechanism for resolving such conflicts, namely the court system.

In modern societies, law is also used to regulate economic transactions and allocate social benefits among citizens. In addition, the law is a source of scholarly inquiry and is the subject of legal philosophy, history, sociology, economic analysis and criminology.

The Law varies from culture to culture and place to place, with some laws being considered more just or fair than others. The law is a key area of political debate and is a major focus of scholarly research.

Legal systems vary in the extent to which they are centralized or decentralized, and in their degree of freedom and democracy. These variations impact on the way laws are made, applied and enforced.

Traditionally, laws were made in a constitutional monarchy where the supreme ruler had authority over the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the state. More recently laws have been made in republics and federal systems. In both types of regimes, the constitution sets out the framework for law making, including the limits on power of the legislative and judicial branches.

There are three broad areas of law: civil, criminal and administrative. Civil law focuses on resolving disputes between private parties, for example tort law which deals with compensation in cases of injury caused by negligence and breach of contract law which governs contracts. Criminal law covers offences against the state and encompasses acts such as murder, robbery and treason.

Administrative law is concerned with the rules that determine how courts and tribunals operate, for example rules governing evidence and the conduct of judges. It is an important area for judicial independence, accountability and transparency.

A fourth area of law is political law, which addresses the principles underlying a legal system. It includes issues such as the supremacy of law, equality before the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and transparency. These issues are influenced by political systems, ideologies and values as well as the wider socio-economic context. This area of law is an important area of scholarly enquiry and is treated in a number of articles, including constitutional law; legal ethics; law and ideology; and the state.