What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules a community recognizes as regulating its members’ actions. The study of law is a central part of human civilization, involving the analysis of political systems and economics. Law shapes history, culture and society in a myriad of ways and serves as the mediator of relations between people. Law can be distinguished from other disciplines by its normative nature, which imposes what should happen and how things should be rather than simply explaining what does or doesn’t happen.

Law consists of multiple branches that cover almost all aspects of life. Contract law, for example, governs agreements between individuals and the sale of goods or services, while property law defines the ownership rights of tangible objects, such as land or vehicles, and intangible assets, such as bank accounts or stocks and shares. Tort law governs claims by individuals when they are harmed by the actions of others, such as compensation for an automobile accident or defamation of character. Law also relates to the government and its institutions, such as the courts, prisons and military.

The practice of law requires training, usually a degree, and a license to practise. Lawyers are sometimes addressed as ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’, to indicate the degree of their legal knowledge and status. The practice of law is often regulated to maintain its professional integrity, for instance by the barristers’ profession body, which sets minimum standards of education and training for lawyers.

There are different types of legal systems in the world, ranging from civil law jurisdictions to common law countries, where laws are based on judge-made precedent. Historically, religious laws have also played a role, such as the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia.

Law is complex from a philosophical viewpoint, as it has multiple layers. The first is a procedural layer that imposes how disputes are adjudicated, such as by the courts or a tribunal. Another is a substantive layer that regulates the activities of individuals and organisations, such as businesses operating in a particular industry or social restrictions on freedom of movement within a country. The third is a moral layer that imposes the ethical code of the community, such as that everyone should be treated fairly and without prejudice.