What is Law?

Law is a system of rules that governs people’s behaviour, and is enforced through a government and backed by penalties. Its purpose is to ensure that society is orderly and fair, that people’s rights are respected, and that the government acts responsibly. There are many different opinions on what the law should cover, and how it should be interpreted. However, most agree that it consists of a set of standards, rules and procedures that are applied equally to all members of a society. It also establishes and protects core human, property, criminal and civil rights. The law is the product of a society’s political and legal systems. It can be influenced by many factors, such as the balance of power between the government and its citizens, the stability of the government and the country, the degree to which military or other external forces control the government, and the extent to which democratic principles are practised.

The word law is derived from the Latin term lex, meaning “the rule”. The law has several functions: it sets standards, keeps order, resolves disputes and protects rights and liberties. In a modern state, laws are created and enforced by a legislative body called a parliament or congress, which is elected (chosen) by the people to represent them. Laws are usually written in a constitution, which defines the basic principles of a society and provides a framework for the creation of laws.

Most countries have a judiciary, which makes decisions about cases brought before the courts. These judges are often called magistrates, justices or district judges. In common law systems, decisions by higher courts bind lower courts, based on the principle of stare decisis. In some countries, judicial decisions are also compiled into books of case law. In other countries, they are enshrined in legal codes or legislative statutes.

People often trust the ideas that form the basis of laws from their culture and upbringing. In some religious cultures, the word of God, or a book like the Bible or Koran, is considered to contain law.

A person who is trained in the interpretation and application of law is called a lawyer, barrister or solicitor. They are often called on to draft contracts and advise clients about their rights, responsibilities and opportunities.

Philosophers have offered many ideas on the nature of law, from utilitarian theories, such as those of Jeremy Bentham, to ideas that focus on morality. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s concept of natural law is an example of the latter.