The Definition of Law

Law is a set of rules developed and enforced by society or government to regulate behavior. The precise definition of law is a matter of longstanding debate and it has been described as both a science and an art, but it serves many purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The governing institution may be a centralized government, a regional or national legislature or even a local council or committee. The laws may be created by direct legislation or they may develop through the silent growth of custom and the unformulated expressions of public or professional opinion.

The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways. It is the subject of a vast array of disciplines, such as anthropology, philosophy, political science, sociology and social work. The study of law is also a source of many professions, including the practice of law, teaching, legal research and writing and forensic science.

It is important to distinguish between criminal and civil law. Criminal law deals with offenses against a state, whereas civil law covers disputes between individuals. Civil law is based on codes, which contain the basic rules in a particular area and are designed to be easy for judges to follow. The major areas of civil law are contract law, tort law (the compensation of damage caused to people or their property), family law, immigration and citizenship law, real estate law and taxation law.

These areas are a small part of the law as a whole, which is a mosaic of statutes and treaties, case law, administrative agency regulations, executive orders, and legislative proposals. The law of a nation is influenced by the law of other nations, especially those that share its heritage and language. It is also shaped by the laws of religion, such as Sharia in Islamic countries, and by the traditions of culture and local community.

It is impossible to know exactly what the law is, since it is constantly changing and evolving. However, there are some general rules that can be derived from studying the historical development of the law. One important principle is that the law cannot require behaviours that are immoral, illegal or beyond a person’s ability to perform, as this violates human dignity and is therefore unenforceable. Similarly, the law must protect individuals from oppressive governments. If a government fails to meet these requirements, it will be dethroned by the people. It is this principle that underlies democracy and free societies.