What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules developed by a society or government to deal with crime and social relationships. It can also be used to refer to the people who work in this system:

Law shapes politics, economics and history in many ways, while being a source of scholarly enquiry in legal theory, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. It raises complex questions of equality and fairness that go beyond the specifics of individual legal areas.

The exact content of law is impossible to verify, because it depends on the shape of the physical world and the limitations inherent in human minds and their capacities. It cannot, for instance, mandate behaviours that are unattainable, or force people to do things which are beyond their abilities. It is a product of the process by which human beings impose order on their environment, and it is only through the process of observation, participation and action that it can be defined as law.

While the precise definition of law is contested, there are some common themes. The main ones are that law is a set of enforceable, rational and consistent rules which govern behaviour, and that it can be used to regulate the economy, enforce rights or settle disputes. Law is a social construct that is dependent on the human mind, but which can be influenced by other forces such as culture and religion.

Amongst the various aspects of law, there is a distinction between civil and criminal law. Criminal law covers conduct considered harmful to social order, and is dealt with through the courts. Civil law deals with the resolution of disputes between individuals or organizations. A related area is international law, which covers the relationship between different nations and their citizens.

Within these broad areas, there are many specialized fields. Labour law, for example, concerns the tripartite industrial relationship between employer, employee and trade union; it includes the right to strike. Civil procedure involves the rules that must be followed as a case proceeds through a trial or appeal. Evidence law involves the question of which materials are admissible in court.

In addition, there are laws about the environment, and about business practices. These laws are usually codified in documents such as statutes or codes, and are designed to ensure that people follow certain standards of practice. They also help to protect the interests of consumers and businesses. There are also a number of cultural forms of law, such as customary or traditional practices, which are not necessarily part of a formally recognised legal system. These form a basis for some indigenous and aboriginal cultures, where laws are not made by governments but based on consensus, tradition and social norms. These cultures often have a strong spiritual component, and these traditions may conflict with the legal systems of Western countries.