What Is Law?

Law is a body of rules a society accepts and enforces to govern the behaviour of its members. These rules may be written or unwritten, but always are enforceable by a central authority, usually courts and police.

A society’s laws may be based on a religion or faith, its culture and family traditions, or ideas from philosophers or religious books such as the Bible or Koran. They often include principles like fairness, honesty and equality. Laws may limit freedom or impose responsibilities, as in the case of child abuse laws or traffic regulations. They may also define people’s rights and duties toward each other, as in human rights laws or property laws.

Most countries have a legislative body, called parliament or congress, that makes laws for its citizens. Some have a constitutional charter that sets out the broad framework of how laws should be made. Others have a supreme court that interprets the constitution, determining whether laws are constitutional (legally right) or unconstitutional (violating the constitution). The main source of law is a country’s government, but there may be other sources of law as well.

Individuals, businesses and organisations may also create their own codes of conduct that they believe should be binding on them. These codes may be unwritten, and are called custom or tradition, or they may be written and agreed upon in a formal process, and formally known as a statute or law.

Legal practice and theory are important aspects of law, and the study of legal history is an important component. There are also many fields of law, such as international law, human rights law and constitutional law. The study of a specific area of law can provide valuable insight into other areas of law as well.

A person who is professionally involved in the practice of law, which includes advising clients and preparing legal documents, is called a lawyer or solicitor. The field of law that deals with business and money, such as corporate or tax law, is known as transactional law. Other areas of law, such as family or biolaw, are more specialised.

Observance of laws is crucial for a healthy society, and this requires an institution that provides fair justice to all its citizens, including protecting their fundamental rights. A thriving society must have checks on the use of power, such as a free press and an independent judiciary. It must also have mechanisms to ensure the smooth transition of power between administrations and the protection of civil liberties. It must also have a system of education for its citizens that teaches them about the law, its purpose and its mechanisms. The societal benefits of these safeguards are known as the rule of law. These elements combine to make up a strong democracy that has the best chance of providing a prosperous future for its citizens. However, many countries struggle with problems related to the rule of law, as described in this article.