What Is Law?

Law is the body of rules that regulates behaviour, and it can be enforced through penalties. It is a complex concept and scholars have written many books exploring different ideas about it. A common theme is the importance of the Rule of Law – that people should be subject to publicly disclosed legal codes that they can understand and follow. This is an important safeguard against arbitrary power by government or private individuals.

In practice, the law is often a result of the conflicting pulls of politics, economic interests and ethics. Some philosophers have therefore argued that laws reflect innate moral principles and cannot be purely utilitarian. For example, Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian definition of law was “commands, backed by the threat of sanctions from a sovereign, which people have developed a habit of obeying.” Other philosophers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Aquinas, have argued that natural law incorporates a principle of morality.

Most countries have a mixture of different laws. For instance, some have a common law system that relies on decisions made by judges, which are then collected together in case books. Other countries have a civil law system where legislative statutes and executive regulations set out specific rules. In both systems, laws may also be influenced by the cultural heritage of a country, which can be reflected in terms of the language used to write them and by the way they are enforced.

The broad categories of law include administrative, civil and criminal law. Administrative law covers government regulation of businesses such as banks, insurance companies and utilities. Civil law deals with disputes between individuals, such as personal injury or property damage claims. Criminal law relates to crimes committed against the state, such as murder or fraud.

Laws also cover social policy issues such as child protection, anti-discrimination and consumer rights. They can be formulated by either the legislature, through bills and statutes, or by an executive body such as a cabinet. The legislative process can be lengthy and complex, with consultation and parliamentary scrutiny.

Lawyers are often called upon to comment on and challenge changes to legislation. This can be in public forums such as newspaper articles and television debates, or more formally in journals and academic papers. Legal writing tends to be highly technical and jargon-heavy, and lawyers are likely to use footnotes and quotations in order to make their points. In addition, many lawyers are involved in the campaign for equality and have a strong interest in promoting diversity. This is a very challenging area for the legal profession. The following articles provide a range of examples of how lawyers can address this issue. In this extract from the firm’s blog, a legal specialist writes about pregnancy and parental leave entitlements for casual employees. The writer uses a series of hypothetical situations, breaks the topic into different sub-topics, and includes links to relevant legislation. The article is well structured and clear, and it makes good use of legal jargon in an accessible way.