What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules created by the state that form a framework to ensure a peaceful society. It is enforced by the state and when it is broken sanctions can be imposed. In addition to maintaining the status quo, laws also serve a number of other purposes. These include establishing standards, keeping order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.

Laws can be created by legislative statutes, executive orders or judicial decisions. In common law legal systems, court decisions are recognised as being law on equal footing with legislative statutes and executive regulations. This is known as the doctrine of precedent or stare decisis. The principle that previous decisions should be ‘upheld’ by subsequent judges helps to assure that cases with similar facts reach similar conclusions.

In some countries, religion plays an important role in lawmaking, for example the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, both of which are based on religious precepts. Some religious law, for example canon law in some church communities, reflects the word of God and is supposedly unalterable. However, most religious law systems rely on further human elaboration to provide extensive and detailed legal systems.

Other law, such as competition law and aviation law, involves international agreements that have been incorporated into national legislation. This is largely a result of the need to ensure safety and security in these industries. Environmental and consumer law both focus on regulating how companies may operate in the environment, including their production processes, and protect consumers from products that are unsafe or unethical.

Criminal law, which covers all crimes against the state and is governed by the constitutions and other national documents, is another aspect of legal system. This includes the right to a fair trial and redress, and a citizen’s rights to privacy and protection from discrimination.

Other fields of law include labour and employment law, which deals with the tripartite relationship between worker, employer and trade union. Civil procedure and evidence law concern the procedures a judge must follow to decide a case and what materials are admissible in court. Tort law covers compensation for harm caused to people or property, whether by a road traffic accident or defamation of character. Family and property law cover marriage, divorce proceedings, the rights of children and inheritance. In addition, immigration and nationality law deal with the rights of foreigners to live in a country, and the problem of stateless individuals. Law is not immune to criticism and scholarly debate, but this helps to ensure that it keeps pace with developments in society and technology.