What is Law?

What is Law?


Law is the set of rules that governs human conduct. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people. It has four principal purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. It is enforced through a central authority, which may be sovereign, national or local. Laws can be made by a legislative body, producing statutes; enacted by an executive branch through decrees and regulations, or established by judges through precedent (known as stare decisis), in common law jurisdictions. Individuals may also create legally binding contracts, such as arbitration agreements, that adopt alternative rules.

The concept of law has different meanings for different people and groups, reflecting a range of ideological and philosophical perspectives on the nature of laws and their relationship to social, political and economic reality. For example, one group definition of law emphasizes a set of standards to be applied by a sovereign authority, while another definition centers on a set of principles and processes to guide the application of laws by an individual or organization.

There are many different fields in which law can be studied, including criminal, constitutional, labour, property, civil rights and administrative law. For example, labour law involves the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade unions, while civil rights law concerns the rights of citizens to a fair trial and hearing. Constitutional law examines the fundamental framework of a country’s governance, including its constitution and the legality of decisions by government agencies or courts.

Many different philosophies of law exist, including the “positivist” school, which analyzes a rule’s purpose and substance in terms of its meaning and effect, and the “legal realist” school, which considers the social context and actual behavior of the principal actors who apply the rule to decide its appropriateness. Some of these philosophies are at odds with each other: a precise analysis of a rule might lead to one conclusion, while the realist view might come to a completely different conclusion.

The law is usually compiled and published in law reports, which provide indexes, references to the key principles of the common law involved, editorial analysis, and similar finding aids. These reports are produced either by private-sector publishers or by public-sector publishers. Private-sector publishers produce legal publications as a business activity, while public-sector publishing is generally considered to be a part of the governmental function. Both models have their advantages and disadvantages.