What is Law?


Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It is a complex subject, and the precise definition of law has been a matter of debate for centuries. Its complexity is due to its normative and prescriptive nature; law says what people ought to do or not do, and what they may or must not require from each other. This feature makes it different from statements of purely descriptive or causal nature (such as the law of gravity) or even of social science (such as the law of supply and demand).

The laws that make up a legal system are broadly classified into a number of categories. Criminal law deals with conduct that is deemed harmful to the social order and provides for punishment of those who break the laws. Civil law concerns disputes between individuals, such as torts (i.e. damages awarded in compensation for injuries to persons or property) and contracts. Laws concerning a person’s rights and duties toward tangible property are classified into land law (rights in rem) and personal property law (rights in movables). Other fields of the law include contract law, labour law, family law, intellectual property law and tax law.

While law is a complex topic, it also raises important and complicated issues about justice. The question of whether a society is just or not has been the focus of much scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, sociology and economic analysis. Other topics have included the extent to which the law is based on human rationality and the degree to which it is fair, equitable and transparent.

Law is a highly contested area of study because the development and operation of the law depends on many things, including its social and cultural context. These factors vary from country to country, and can influence the interpretation of the law by judges and lawyers.

Among the most controversial topics in law are questions about the legitimacy of some forms of power, such as military, policing and bureaucratic power, and whether these powers should be limited to a small elite or spread more widely throughout the population. In addition, there are questions about whether the law is well written and accessible to all citizens, and whether it reflects core values of democracy and human rights.

While law is an integral part of most societies, the exact form it takes varies significantly from one place to another. There are many different types of law systems, with some focusing on codifying statutes and regulations through the legislative process while others follow the common law tradition of judging cases and resolving disputes through the courts. In some countries, the decisions of the highest court in a jurisdiction are binding on lower courts in similar situations, a practice known as stare decisis. Other laws are governed by constitutions, treaties and international agreements. In any case, laws are constantly being reshaped by new events and the changing needs of society.