What is Law?

What is Law?

Law is a set of rules created by an authority that are enforced by mechanisms, usually courts, to ensure order in society. These laws may also protect people’s liberties and rights, such as by ensuring fair trials or the right to privacy. Some people use law to describe the legal profession or study of law as a field of academic research.

Different theories of law have developed over time, reflecting changing social and political circumstances. For example, Max Weber reshaped thinking about the extension of state power. Modern military and bureaucratic power over ordinary citizens raises challenges to the rule of law that early writers such as Locke or Montesquieu could not have foreseen.

The most basic definition of law is a set of orders issued by a sovereign, backed by the threat of force or violence, that imposes order on its subjects. This is an oversimplification, of course, but it explains why some laws are followed, even though they may be arbitrary or bad (e.g., the Nazis executed six million Jews under German law; Saddam Hussein tortured and killed minorities, including Sunni Muslims, pursuant to Iraqi law).

There are many different types of law, ranging from the most broad to the most specific. For instance, criminal law includes all laws regarding a crime, such as murder or theft. Laws governing the family include marriage, divorce, property and child custody. Labour law is concerned with the three-party industrial relationship of worker, employer and trade union and involves collective bargaining regulation, minimum wage laws, and the right to strike. Laws governing the courtroom address issues such as how to proceed with a trial or hearing, evidence law and which materials are admissible in a case.

Laws also govern the interaction between individuals, such as a husband and wife, or a business partner or employer. Some of these laws are based on custom, while others are based on natural and moral principles. A good example of this is the principle that a person can not be forced against their will to marry someone with whom they do not wish to live.

The law is a powerful tool for social control. It serves four principal purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The law is also a reflection of society’s values and beliefs, so a change in the structure of law may reflect changes in social attitudes. It is important that the law be understandable, accessible and publicly available to all citizens. It is equally important that all citizens have access to the courts and other legal processes that protect them from abuses of government power. A fundamental question in any discussion of law is whether core human, procedural and property rights are enshrined in the law. This is a crucial test of the rule of law. A country that does not have a robust legal system, or that does not make its laws transparent to its citizens, is not a democratic society.