What is Law?

Law is the system of rules that a society or community recognizes as regulating its members’ activities and protecting their rights and liberties. It is enforced by government agencies or organizations and individuals acting within the limits of established legal principles. Law encompasses many diverse subjects, including contract law, criminal law, family and employment law, property law, international law, and the major debates in legal theory.

The precise nature of law is a subject of long-standing debate. One definition of it, by Jeremy Bentham, was that “law is simply commands backed by the threat of sanctions, from a sovereign, to whom men have a habit of obedience”. Others, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, used the term to refer to an innate, unchanging morality.

Modern law is usually described as a complex set of rules designed to ensure that social wants are satisfied in an orderly manner. It is derived from many sources, such as custom, tradition and legal technique, and is continually shaped by conflicting pulls of political philosophy, economic interests, ethical values and social engineering techniques.

Law is a complex subject, and its study requires knowledge of a wide variety of topics, including history, anthropology, economics, sociology, philosophy, religion, politics, and ethics. It is also a highly interdisciplinary subject, and the interplay of different fields can provide useful insights into the law. For example, the relationship of law to a particular country’s culture can help explain its specific characteristics, such as its approach to justice, its judicial system, and its system of enforcement.

In addition to the laws themselves, the field of law includes the legal professions, which are regulated by either government or independent regulating bodies (e.g. a bar association or law council). To qualify as a lawyer or to practice in law, people must pass an exam and gain a professional qualification, such as a Bachelor of Laws or a Juris Doctor degree.

Law is also a concept that can be applied to a broad range of issues, from the economy, environment and health to human rights, terrorism, war and crime. For more on these issues, see censorship; corruption; criminal law; intellectual property (specifically patents and copyrights); and the law in relation to military power.