What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules that governs relationships in society and defines people’s rights and obligations. It covers a variety of topics, including contracts, torts and property. Legal systems differ widely in their aims and the way they process civil and criminal cases. Some follow the common-law tradition, with jury trials and adherence to precedent; others use a civil code and treat judicial decisions as non-binding persuasive authority. The interaction between constitutional, statutory and regulatory laws can be complex.

The definition of ‘law’ has changed over the centuries, reflecting changing social attitudes. For example, earlier theories included the idea that a sovereign authority imposes laws to control behavior through force and threat of sanction. Later philosophies such as Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian theory of justice held that law should serve an overall good end. More recently, the concept of ‘natural law’ has become popular, with writers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau arguing that people have God-given rights that the government cannot take away.

There are many different branches of law, regulating everything from airline flight schedules to corporate governance and medical jurisprudence. Contract law concerns agreements between parties to exchange goods or services. Tort law covers harms and injuries between people that do not rise to the level of a contract, such as libel or slander. Property law encompasses ownership of tangible objects (real estate, such as houses or land), personal property (movable items such as computers and cars) and intangible assets (such as intellectual property, company shares and trust funds).

Another area of law is administrative law, which deals with how governments regulate their citizens’ activities. This includes such areas as zoning, environmental regulations and labour standards. Laws that govern relationships between international entities such as treaties and customary international law are also considered part of the legal system.

Laws that provide the basis for a functioning legal system are created by legislatures and enforced by courts. The sources of law vary by nation, with some having foundational constitutions that dictate how courts function and what kinds of legislation can be passed. In the United States, the Constitution is a source of law; Congress creates statutory law and the courts interpret both constitutional and statutory laws. This makes the US an outlier among nations, as other countries generally rely on a civil code and treaties to establish their basic laws.

By adminssk
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