What Is Law?

Law is the set of rules and principles that are enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, with different legal systems differing in their views. Law can be enacted by a legislative assembly, resulting in statutes; decreed by the executive, resulting in regulations; or established by judges through precedent, known as common law. Law can also be enacted by private individuals, creating legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements.

The law is a system of rules that governs a country and its citizens. It includes rules about property, contracts and other aspects of daily life. The law aims to create a fair and orderly society. It defines and protects people’s rights and freedoms, and it punishes those who break the law. Most countries have a constitution for the overall framework of the law, and they make further laws for matters of detail.

Those who disagree with the law may have a political or religious motivation to overturn it. They can try to influence the law through activism and protest, or they can try to change it through electoral politics. Some of these movements have led to revolutions, while others have fought for democracy and greater civil liberties. The law shapes politics, economics and history in many ways, and it influences the way a society functions and the relationships between its members.

The exact nature of law has been a subject of intense study for centuries. John Austin’s utilitarian theory, for example, states that the law consists of commands, backed by the threat of sanctions, from a sovereign authority to whom all men are subjects and who they have a habit of obeying. Other philosophers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Aquinas, have argued that the law reflects natural and unchanging principles.

A broad range of fields of law exist, from land law and personal property to intellectual property and criminal law. Land law deals with ownership of land, whereas personal property is anything that can be movable, from a car to the right to an idea. Tort law involves compensation for damage caused by someone else, whether that harm is physical or mental.

Other laws concern banking and financial regulation, which sets minimum standards that banks must meet to operate. These are intended to limit the risks of financial crises, which can be devastating to economies. Other fields of law involve regulating utilities and services, such as water, energy and telecommunications. Many governments now privatize these services, and those private companies are required to follow a set of regulations when they run the service. Other laws cover international relations, the armed forces and foreign policy.