What Is Law?

What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that a society or government develops to deal with crime, business agreements, and social relationships. The term can also be used to describe the field of study devoted to analyzing, interpreting and defending legal issues. Students who earn a degree in law can be known as lawyers or jurists.

The principal functions of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The precise definition of law is a subject of ongoing debate. It has been described as a social science, a philosophy and even an art form.

Legal scholars distinguish between civil and criminal laws. Criminal laws punish those who violate them, while civil laws settle conflicts between private individuals or organisations. Civil law is the prevailing legal system in most countries. Its roots are in ancient Roman law, which underwent major codification during the Roman Empire. The law of the land is a core aspect of civil law, with property law, land registration, intellectual property and company law all forming part of it.

Many societies have religious laws in addition to civil and criminal law. These laws are not binding on all citizens, but are considered authoritative by some and may influence court decisions. The most widely used religious laws are Jewish halakha and Islamic Sharia, while Christian canon law still plays a role in some church communities.

There are numerous areas of law that branch off from the core subjects. Labour law, for example, involves the tripartite relationship between employer, trade union and employee. It includes issues such as employment contracts, workplace safety and the right to strike. Property law deals with the ownership of movable goods, including real property (sometimes called’real estate’) and personal property (such as cars and computers). It covers the granting and enforcement of mortgages, leases, easements, covenants and other agreements. It also regulates tenancies, ownership and the registration of title deeds.

There are various branches of law, and each has its own specialist fields. For instance, international law addresses treaties between states, while space law covers aspects of the commercialisation and regulation of outer space. Tax law is a specialised area, with rules regarding the amount of tax a business must pay and regulations on the ways a business can claim deductions. Evidence law concerns which materials are admissible in courts for a case to be built. In addition, there is a body of law that governs the behaviour of the police and other official bodies involved in the enforcement and administration of law. It is this body of law that is the subject of much scholarly research in criminology, sociology and anthropology. Law is also the subject of a variety of philosophical inquiries, such as legal history and the history of ideas. In particular, law raises issues of the nature of power, ethics and the relationship between justice and liberty. The study of law has therefore become an important aspect of jurisprudence, political theory and social analysis.