What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules created by the government which citizens must abide by or face punishment. This is usually done through a system of justice and courts. Law can also be the term used to describe a career in the legal profession or a legal system itself. It can even be applied to a specific piece of legislation, such as an act passed by a legislature or amendments made to existing laws.

The law is an important part of a society because it sets standards, maintains order, resolves disputes and protects liberties and rights. It also provides a basis for societal cooperation and growth, as it creates a structure to guide people in their daily lives. It is not easy to give a definitive definition of law, as it can be interpreted differently depending on the context. For example, a suggestion that one should eat five fruits and vegetables a day might be seen as advice rather than law, while a rule against stealing could be described as a law that is enforceable through the use of sanctions.

Many different theories on the nature of law have been put forward. Hans Kelsen proposed the ‘pure theory of law’ which states that the role of law is to provide rules and guidelines for individuals to follow, rather than telling them what must happen. Max Weber reshaped thinking on law, arguing that the concept of power backed by threats is not enough to hold governments accountable. He suggested that people must also have the ability to vote for their governments, and can ‘defend themselves against bureaucratic authority by means of a political counterweight’.

Some countries, such as the United States, employ a common law system which derives its rules from judges’ decisions on cases that have come before them. These decisions are then codified into statutes. Other nations such as Japan, on the other hand, have a civil law system which is based on written constitutions and codes.

There are numerous different branches of law which encompass a wide range of areas of human life. Contract law governs agreements that exchange goods or services, and includes anything from buying a bus ticket to trading options on a derivatives market. Property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible property, including land and buildings, as well as intangible property such as money and shares. Employment law deals with the tripartite relationship between worker, employer and trade union, regulating issues such as minimum wage and health and safety regulations. Evidence law relates to which materials are admissible in court.

Other fields of law include administrative law which relates to the functions and structures of public agencies, environmental law which deals with issues such as pollution control and natural resources, criminal law which regulates crimes and their punishments and family law, which covers issues such as marriage, divorce and the rights of children. Biological law is another field which draws on both the law and science to analyse how living organisms function.