What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules and customs enforced by government or social institutions. Laws are said to serve several purposes, namely establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Societal views on law reflect on concepts such as rationality, justice, morality, and honesty. Laws can be described as societal contracts, statutes and guidelines, as well as legal precedents.

A more general definition of law is any strong rule that must be followed, for example, a house rule or the law of self-preservation. Other examples of laws include the speed limit or traffic rules. However, it is more common to use the term law to refer to a particular body of laws, such as a nation’s. Law is also used as a profession, as in Zola always dreamed of becoming a lawyer, so she studied hard in law school.

Legal systems vary widely around the world. Most countries have civil law, although some still follow religious or customary traditions. Many of these systems evolved through a process of colonization by continental European powers. For instance, in India the Hindu and Islamic legal traditions were supplanted by English common law. However, some countries that have been colonized by non-Western nations retain their own legal traditions. These may include India, Thailand, Indonesia or Malaysia. Other countries have mixed legal systems, where elements of civil and common law are combined.

Common legal fields include property, contract, labour and criminal law. Property law encompasses real and personal property, including mortgages, leases, easements and statutory systems for land registration. Contract law covers agreements, rudimentary contracts and treaties between people or organisations. Labor law concerns employment relationships, whether between worker and employer or amongst trade unions. Criminal law deals with offenses against a person or group of persons, such as theft and murder. Regulations on business activity include banking and financial regulation, commercial law and a range of environmental regulations.

Normative law is the set of principles that governs the behaviour of an individual or organisation and its effects on others. Normative legal theory is richly developed and contributes to the development of legal practice, jurisprudence and society in a number of ways. It provides guidance to judges and legislators, focuses attention on the need for clear and publicized rules, and makes a difference through its influence on the culture of law. Its central ideas are the respect for human rights, equal application of laws, and a dynamic relationship between legislature and judiciary that adjusts rules to social change by way of interpretation and creative jurisprudence. It also emphasises accountability, openness and transparency. All government officers are held accountable for their actions, and are subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes. This includes members of parliament and the executive branch, as well as members of a state’s supreme court or other legal bodies. It also extends to judicial independence. In the United States, for instance, all Supreme Court Justices and members of Congress take oaths to uphold the Constitution.