What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules that a country or community recognizes as regulating its members’ actions. It sets out what you can and cannot do in a society, including your rights as an individual, and it is enforced by courts or police. It covers many areas of life, such as property and contracts. In modern countries, laws are written and voted on by politicians in parliaments or congresses, which are elected (chosen) by the people they serve. These bodies make laws to set out the overall framework of a society, while local governments or communities may add further laws for specific matters.

Different cultures and societies have different views on what constitutes law. As a result, there are many different types of laws across the world, but there are also some basic principles that most legal systems share.

The law is a framework that ensures a peaceful society, and that all people are treated fairly. It imposes sanctions on those who break the law, such as fines or imprisonment. The law provides a way for people to settle disputes peacefully rather than fighting, for example if two people claim the same piece of land.

It also ensures that the people who work for the government or public services carry out their duties in a responsible and ethical manner. This is especially important for those working with children, as they have extra responsibilities to protect them from abuse and other harm.

In some legal systems, such as common law, decisions by judges are considered law on an equal footing with legislative statutes. This is known as the doctrine of precedent or stare decisis. This ensures that similar cases reach similar results, and it means that the judgment of higher courts binds lower courts.

Other types of law include intellectual property laws, which cover the rights that people have over things they create, such as art and music, and patent laws, which give people exclusive rights to inventions. Commercial laws, such as company and trust law, set out the rules that govern companies and other organisations, such as how to invest money in them. Tort laws help people claim compensation if they have been hurt, or their possessions damaged, by someone else’s carelessness or bad behaviour. Medical law encompasses the rights and responsibilities of patients and medical professionals, such as confidentiality and physician-patient privilege.

Many ancient judicial decisions, and the treatises that they are taken from, contained maxims that are still quoted today, such as “no one can be judge in his own cause”, or “one should not mix charity with politics”. These and other themes in legal history, ad hoc judgments, prevailing moral and political theories and, whether avowed or unconscious, the prejudices of judges, all have had a part to play in what we now call law. These deeper dimensions are what distinguish law from simple logical reasoning. They are why we study law, and what makes it so fascinating and complex.