What is Law?


Law is a system of rules and regulations created by the state and enforced through the legal institutions of that society. It promotes social stability and justice by regulating behaviour and resolving disputes, protecting property and people’s rights, and punishing offenders. It also provides a framework for businesses to operate and provide an essential service to the public. Law is a major source of work in areas such as legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.

Jeremy Bentham argued that law is the body of rules, customs and practices recognised as binding by a community and enforced by its authority. He defined its purposes as – ‘First, to establish standards and order the conduct of individuals in specific situations by the systematic application of force by an organized political society. Second, to distribute wealth, privileges and burdens in the most equitable manner possible. Third, to ensure that all are adequately supplied with the means of subsistence and the opportunity to pursue happiness’

Blackstone’s definition of law is similar. He added that the laws of nature and of revelation, municipal and natural law, were all part of a single law of nature. This general view was shared by Sir Edward Coke and Thomas Aquinas, although they used different terminology.

Other important aspects of law are that – ‘It is clear, publicized and stable. It is accessible to everyone and is applied equally. It protects property, contracts and procedural rights and is enforced by competent, ethical and independent representatives and neutrals who are available to all and reflect the makeup of communities they serve.

The broad subjects of law include – criminal law (the study of conduct which is judged harmful to society and punished by the state) and civil law (as it deals with disputes between individuals). Law differs from religion to religion in the sense that certain practices are criminalised (e.g. bigamy, where a man takes another wife during the lifetime of his first).

Other fields of law include immigration and nationality law (which covers the right to live in and gain citizenship of a country), tax law (which regulates how much we pay in taxes and what exemptions we are entitled to) and space law, which covers human activities in Earth orbit and outer space. In the area of international law, law includes treaties and agreements between nations, and regional bodies such as the European Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Law also includes the field of commercial arbitration, a process that resolves commercial disputes without going to court. It is not uncommon for these legal disputes to involve multinational corporations, so a wide range of knowledge is required for those practicing in this area.