What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that governs the behavior and rights of people in social or governmental institutions. It is a complex concept with deep dimensions that make it different from other disciplines like philosophy, anthropology and even sociology. A central feature of Law is its normative character, that is it tells us how we ought to behave or not, or what we may or should not require from others – as opposed to descriptive statements in science (as the law of gravity) or even in sociology and economics (as the laws of supply and demand).

One of the key features of Law is that it is universally applicable despite being created and implemented by individual nation-states, and that this uniformity is enforced through international law. The idea of law as an international common denominator is also a fundamental element of the United Nations system of global governance, which requires that governments recognise and comply with certain basic standards including supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, separation of powers, participation in decision making, legal certainty and avoidance of arbitrariness.

The legal systems of most nation-states today are a combination of civil and criminal law, with civil law dealing with the resolution of lawsuits between individuals or organisations and criminal law dealing with the punishment of those who commit offences against society. The overlapping of these various jurisdictions and the diverse nature of each state’s approach to the creation, implementation and enforcement of law makes understanding Law an extremely complex undertaking.

Law is a source of much scholarly inquiry in areas such as legal history, philosophy, political science and economic analysis, and raises important issues concerning the ideas of justice and fairness. It is an interdisciplinary field and its study involves consideration of many different viewpoints, including those of history, sociology, economics, philosophy, anthropology, religion and ethics.

In the modern world, the most important function of law is that it identifies and punishes those who break the rules of society. This is achieved through the creation and enforcement of a variety of laws, such as those relating to property ownership, employment or taxation, as well as laws governing conduct that is considered to be harmful to society such as terrorism or murder.

In most states, there is a constitutional or legislative branch that sets the framework for Law through statutes and constitutions, as well as the judiciary which implements and enforces the Law through judicial decisions. Other important areas of Law include administrative or regulatory law, dealing with the operation of public utilities such as energy, water or telecoms, and environmental law. There is also a growing area of law known as space law, which concerns the laws that relate to human activities in Earth orbit and outer space. Finally, there is family law, which deals with marriage, divorce and the rights of children, as well as property and inheritance laws.