What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules that a particular community recognises as regulating the actions of its members. It is the basis of social order and the protection of individual rights. It may be governed by religious or secular principles. It may include criminal, administrative and family laws. It also includes a wide range of professions such as lawyers, judges and police officers.

The precise nature of law has long been a subject of debate. A number of definitions have been proposed, some focusing on its relationship to morality or to a constitution, written or tacit, that encodes a society’s values and principles. Others focus on the ways in which it shapes politics, economics and history. It is commonly thought that law imposes a binding order on people, but some theorists challenge this claim. Hans Kelsen, for example, suggests that the law merely defines certain rules to be obeyed and does not create any kind of obligation.

A further definition of law is a set of rules which a sovereign community sets to govern its people and territories. These rules are generally created by the legislature through statutes and decrees, or interpreted by the judiciary in the form of case law. In common law jurisdictions, legal rules are also established by judges through precedent and judicial interpretation. In many countries, the law is also shaped by cultural tradition and custom.

Different types of law exist in all nations, mainly to cover the differing needs of their citizens. Commercial law, for example, covers contracts and trade, such as the sale of goods or services. Banking law is concerned with the regulation of financial institutions. Property law covers people’s rights and duties towards tangible goods such as land or buildings, but also intangible assets like shares of stock. Criminal law deals with offences against the state, from driving under the influence of alcohol to murder or fraud.

In the case of a government, its laws are enforced by a system of courts and tribunals. These are often based on the common law, though some jurisdictions base their systems on a constitutional monarchy.

In addition to regulating the actions of its citizens, a country’s law has other functions such as preserving order and resolving disputes. It also acts as a mediator in relations between people. Law is therefore a powerful force in shaping the politics, economy and history of a nation.