What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that a group or government creates and enforces to regulate behavior. It can be applied to a range of issues, such as crime, business agreements and social relationships. Laws can be made by a legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive branch, resulting in regulations and decrees; or established through court decisions, resulting in case law. A legal system can also be influenced by its constitution, whether written or tacit; by the rights encoded in it; or by international law.

It is difficult to give a precise definition of law because systems vary and individuals have different views on what constitutes law. However, some key aspects are:

Laws are enforceable by a state and, if they are broken, sanctions can be imposed. They set standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights. They can be based on religious or secular principles and may incorporate ethical, moral and philosophical ideas. They are often written and interpreted by professionals, and can be shaped by cultural and historical influences.

Generally, laws apply to all members of a society. However, they can be modified to suit specific groups, for example, those who are considered to be most at risk of harm or those who have special needs. For example, a young child is protected by the law against neglect and abuse.

Individuals can be prosecuted for breaking the law, and can face a variety of punishments, from fines to imprisonment. The law can be a source of pride for a country, for example, when it has a strong culture of due process and upholds the rights of its citizens.

A law can also be a tool of power, for example, when it is used to punish political opponents or to control the economy. It can be used to shape social and cultural norms, for example, by imposing censorship or prohibiting drugs. It can also be a way of controlling behaviour by restricting freedoms, for example, by preventing a person from voting or driving, and by imposing health and safety standards.

Lawyers are professionals who advise and represent clients on legal matters. They are usually required to follow a rigorous education and training, and have a distinct professional identity. A lawyer can be referred to as an Esquire or Barrister, and has various professional titles, such as Doctor of Law. They must be licensed to practice by a state or independent regulating body, and are often given a code of ethics to adhere to. Lawyers are often called upon to act as mediators between parties in conflict, or to arbitrate disputes. They can also be called on to provide expert witness testimony in court cases. They can also be employed in the civil service and the military, or work for private companies. They can be consulted on any number of legal matters, from divorce and custody to intellectual property and employment law. They can also be hired to investigate criminal or corporate activity, and to write books on the subject.