What is Law?

Law is the set of rules created and enforced by society that regulates human behavior. It can be enforced through a system of courts, governmental agencies, or private organizations, and it may include contracts, property rights, criminal or civil justice, and societal mores. Law is a complex concept, and its precise definition has been a subject of debate. Theories of law have ranged from utilitarian, based on the principle that an action will cause a good result and therefore should be encouraged, to more moral or ethical interpretations such as those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “natural law”.

The study of law is often focused on how laws are made, why they are enacted, and the effect of the legal system on people’s lives. It is also concerned with the relationship between law and other social phenomena, such as religion, economics, and politics.

Laws can be legislative, resulting in statutes, executive regulations or decrees, or they can be created by the judiciary through the doctrine of precedent, where decisions by higher courts bind lower courts to ensure consistency in rulings. In some jurisdictions, such as in common law systems, judicial decisions are explicitly acknowledged as laws and placed on equal footing with legislative statutes and executive regulations.

In other countries, especially continental European or former colonial states that have retained some aspects of the Roman or canon law tradition, law is largely a matter of common sense or cultural practice and only occasionally codified into statutes and regulations. These are known as civil law systems, and they cover about 60% of the world’s population.

The legal system is concerned with a wide range of issues, from the relationships between employers and employees in tripartite industrial relations to the regulation of energy, water or other public utilities. There is also a strong trend towards the globalisation of legislation through international agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Aviation is another area where laws are increasingly harmonised, with national civil aviation acts (or laws) being aligned with the recommendations or mandatory standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation or ICAO.

A key aspect of a good law is the rule of law, which means that there are clear, well-publicised and stable laws, and that people can know what they are allowed or not allowed to do. It also means that people are treated fairly, and that core human and procedural rights are protected. In addition, the law should be sufficiently stable to allow for planning and coordinated action. A further element is that laws should be understandable by all people, regardless of their wealth or social status. Max Weber’s sociological theory of law is based on this three-part vision.