The Study of Law

Law is a set of rules that creates a framework for ensuring a peaceful society. When the law is broken, sanctions can be applied. It can be made by group legislatures, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or by judges through case precedent, in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can also create binding legal contracts and arbitration agreements to resolve disputes. Law has many purposes, ranging from establishing standards to maintaining order to resolving conflicts and protecting liberties and property. It influences politics, economics, history and society in a wide range of ways.

A fundamental debate in law centres around the precise nature of the law. There is no one definition of the law; its precise nature changes with time and place, reflecting the culture and social circumstances that shape it. In general, however, the law is a body of rules that a sovereign or governing power recognises as its will in relation to members of an organised jural society. It orders and permits, forbids and announces rewards and penalties.

The legal systems of countries and states vary widely, with the political landscape being a major factor. Knowing who has power to make laws – or at least to enforce them – is central to understanding the law in most places. Frequently revolts against existing political-legal authority occur, with the desire for democracy or greater legal rights for citizens being a recurring theme.

Hans Kelsen developed the “pure theory” of law, asserting that a law is simply the prevailing norms of a society. He contrasted this with the behavioural theories of law, which claim that the legal system is like a language and that it reflects the unconscious, organic growth of the society within which it exists.

There are numerous fields of law, ranging from employment and civil rights to property law, criminal law and constitutional law. Labour law, for example, concerns the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade unions, and includes such issues as collective bargaining regulation and the right to strike. Tort law, meanwhile, covers compensation for damages when someone or their property is harmed, while criminal law encompasses the government’s right to punish offenders of the law.

The study of law is often divided into two main categories, common law and statutory law. Common law is the body of legal principles that has emerged through judicial decisions, and is binding in all courts in a given jurisdiction. Statutory law is created by legislative bodies and is binding in all courts of a particular country or state. Both types of law are influenced by religious or cultural traditions, as well as by the historical context of a particular jurisdiction and its socioeconomic conditions.