What is Law?


Law is a system of rules enforced by government or private institutions to regulate human conduct, punish wrongdoing and secure justice. A society’s legal system may be shaped by religion, history, culture or other factors. It may encompass a set of laws, including statutory, regulatory and case-law. Law is the subject of many fields of study, including jurisprudence and legal philosophy. The practice of law involves advising people about the law, representing clients in courts and giving decisions or punishments. The law may also include customs, traditions and ethical practices.

The precise definition of law is a matter of debate, but most scholars agree that it is a body of rules enforceable by some kind of authority and that the law defines what is right and wrong. Laws may be enacted by legislatures resulting in statutes; by executive decrees or regulations, which are often codified into a code of federal law; or by judges, whose rulings become law through the doctrine of stare decisis (to stand by previous decisions). Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements that adopt alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation.

Different countries have different legal systems, which may be influenced by religious or cultural factors or inherited from their colonial past. The legal system determines how a country is governed and how it interacts with other countries. For example, some jurisdictions have a civil law tradition based on French or German law, while others have a common law tradition derived from English or Scottish law.

Laws govern all areas of life, from family and property law to criminal, civil and commercial law. Some laws are global, such as international treaties and conventions, while others address specific topics, like air law or tax law. The law is a powerful tool, shaping politics, economics and history in the same way as it shapes societies and cultures. It influences political structures and social issues, for example, through the way it deals with the distribution of wealth and power, and the way in which it relates to the concept of equality and fairness.

The structure of the law depends on the political system and whether it is a republic, democratic or autocratic. Articles about these topics include constitution; ideology; political party; political system; and law and society. Law is a major part of the educational curriculum for school-age children and youth, and many careers are founded on an understanding of law, including teaching, advising and defending people in court. Articles about these topics include legal profession; law and education; and law and society. Law is an important aspect of a democracy, and articles about this topic include electoral law; constitutional law; freedom of the press; human rights; land reform; and social justice. The law has a long and rich history, and it has developed over time in response to changing social needs and political structures. It is a complex and ever-changing phenomenon.