What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules that a country or community recognizes as regulating its members’ actions. The study of law is called jurisprudence, and the professional who studies and makes laws is a lawyer (or barrister in the United Kingdom). Law is important because it defines people’s right to liberty, property and safety. Without it, a society could become violent and oppressive. The main functions of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. However, the precise nature of law varies from nation to nation. It depends on who has political power to make and enforce the laws. It is often based on culture, religion or a book like the Bible or Koran. It also reflects social habits and family upbringings.

Contract law, for instance, establishes people’s rights and responsibilities when they exchange goods or services – from buying a bus ticket to trading stocks on a derivatives market. Property law establishes people’s rights and duties toward tangible property (land or buildings) as well as intangible objects such as money and securities. Medical law covers the responsibilities of doctors and patients, such as physician-patient privilege and confidentiality.

Criminal law is the body of laws that a state or country uses to punish people for breaking the rules of their society, such as murder and robbery. A judge presides over cases in courts, and the court system is usually backed up by a police force and other agencies. During the trial, the judge listens to arguments from both sides and makes a decision. He or she may impose penalties on the accused person, including fines, jail time or imprisonment.

Most nations have a civil law and common law system of interpreting the constitution, laws and other rules. Civil law provides a clearer set of legal statutes that judges can apply to individual facts. This can reduce the likelihood of biased systems and increase consistency in case outcomes and law. Common law allows a greater reliance on judicial interpretations of the constitution, laws and other rules and is more flexible.

Both kinds of systems have strengths and weaknesses. Civil-law systems can be less costly for the government, but can leave parties feeling that their specific disputes are not heard in full. Common-law systems, on the other hand, can allow for a greater depth of analysis and sensitivity to the facts, but require more highly trained and experienced judges. They can also lead to arguments over whether judges should take a personal moral stance when making decisions. The debate over the role of the judiciary in a democracy is a lively one, and some people believe that judges should be free to say that some laws are unjust. Others, however, argue that judges should be insulated from politics to maintain their independence and impartiality. Some people even believe that they should be above the law. The precise definition of the word ‘law’ is a topic of much debate, but it typically refers to a body of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions.