What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Laws may be enacted by legislative bodies through statutes, decrees and regulations, or they may be established by judges through precedent in common law jurisdictions. It can also be influenced by religious precepts such as Jewish Halakha, Islamic Shariah or Christian canon law.

A legal system provides an ordered and peaceful society in which people can pursue their interests without interference by others. Laws protect individuals’ property and freedom and provide a framework for resolving disputes between individuals or against groups such as businesses, governments and public officials.

For example, a dispute between two persons over a piece of land can be resolved through the courts using the law of ownership, which stipulates who has rights to the land. Laws can also prevent crime and ensure that those who commit crimes are punished.

In general, laws are enforceable by a government and may be administered by a police force or another governmental agency. In the United States, for example, law enforcement agencies work to uphold the Constitution and laws of the country and punish those who violate them. The judicial branch of the government, however, interprets and applies the laws and is independent from political pressures.

Laws can be categorized as civil or criminal. Civil laws deal with disputes between individuals, such as disagreements over contracts, property or injuries suffered by one person against another. Criminal laws, on the other hand, deal with violations against a group or individual, such as murder or robbery.

There are a wide variety of laws, covering everything from contract and tort to family and property. In addition, there are laws dealing with international and domestic affairs. The laws of immigration and nationality define the right to live and work in a nation-state, while the law of marriage and divorce outlines rights and responsibilities between couples. There are even laws that cover business and money, such as corporate and transactional law.

Law is complex from a methodological standpoint, since it is of both normative and descriptive nature. Normative statements are those that establish how people should behave or what they can require from others, while descriptive statements, like those found in empirical science (such as the law of gravity) and social sciences (such as the law of supply and demand), establish facts.

The concept of law is a central tenet of the rule of law, which requires that governments and private entities adhere to laws that are clear and publicized, stable, equally applied and independently adjudicated. It also calls for respect of human rights, the separation of powers, participation in decision-making, avoidance of arbitrariness and legal transparency. It is a major component of good governance and a fundamental element in the development of a democracy. Laws are also the basis of an ethical society and serve as a guide for moral conduct. See Rule of Law for more on this topic.