What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules and regulations that govern a society. These rules are created and enforced by a government or other authority and set limits on what people can do and how they should behave. People who do not follow the law can be punished by being fined or sent to jail. The law is a part of the social fabric and helps ensure a peaceful, prosperous society. There are different kinds of laws in many countries around the world. For example, family law concerns marriage and divorce proceedings and the rights of children. Immigration and nationality law focuses on the rights of foreigners to live and work in a country that is not their own and how they can acquire or lose citizenship. Commercial or corporate law deals with businesses and money. Tort law covers injuries and wrongs to persons and property, such as automobile accidents or defamation. Biolaw combines the law with science and medicine.

Law can be viewed from several angles, including its role in politics and economics, its relationship with history and society, and the nature of justice itself. Some of these perspectives are controversial, and the legal profession is often involved in controversies over how laws should be made and applied.

The earliest modern legal system was the English common law, which evolved during the Plantagenet dynasty from local custom and case-law to a unified system. Henry II, the first of the Plantagenet kings, institutionalized this system by writing statutes that incorporated and elevated common law, ending local control and peculiarities and restoring a jury system–citizens sworn on oath to investigate reliable criminal accusations and civil claims.

Hans Kelsen created the ‘pure theory of law’ which states that the law is a normative science, meaning it does not describe what must occur but only defines certain rules that individuals must abide by. Other theories of law have emphasized its utilitarian and pragmatic functions, such as those put forth by John Austin and Jeremy Bentham. Others have promoted a moral view of the law, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of natural law.

The development of modern law has been shaped by numerous factors, including changes in society, economics and technology. The expansion of the state and its power to regulate the lives of its citizens presents special challenges for justice that earlier writers, such as Locke and Montesquieu, could not have anticipated. For example, the military and policing of nations now extends to regular citizens on an unprecedented scale. Despite this, many scholars believe that the law can be used to promote justice and help bring about orderly social change. In this way the law can serve its core functions: keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, resolving conflicts and protecting liberties and rights. These purposes are reflected in the legal systems of different nations, with some doing a better job than others at fulfilling them.