What is Law?


The law is the set of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of debate. It has been variously described as a science and as an art of justice. Regardless of its precise meaning, the law is a significant component of most societies and plays an important role in the economy, society, and the human condition. Law is the basis for countless systems of government and forms of social control, including those that limit freedom of speech and association; criminal and civil punishment; the military; and war.

The term law can also refer to:

A legal document or system enshrining a principle or practice that must be obeyed by all members of a community or group, such as the ten commandments; or a dictum or principle that is generally accepted as guiding moral behaviour, such as the laws of attraction. The word law can also refer to the written or unwritten rules of a court:

Law may include the constitution and other political structures, such as the supreme legislative body of a nation; government departments, such as the police and the army; or tribunals, such as courts of law and appeals. It can also refer to the doctrines and principles that govern the conduct of a trial, such as evidence; witness testimony; confessions; legal arguments; and precedent (a previous case involving similar facts and circumstances that is binding on a later one).

In most cases, laws are made by politicians or representatives of people in a political system; in others, they are imposed through armed force, such as the military dictatorship of North Korea. The process of making and enforcing laws is a complex undertaking and, given the variety of political systems around the world, the differences between them are considerable.

The principal purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. However, in many instances the laws of a particular nation-state do not adequately serve these needs; revolutions are a constant occurrence and aspirations for democratic rule or greater “rights” for citizens are an ongoing challenge to existing political-legal authority.

The study of law is a broad and rich area for research, spanning philosophy, history, economic analysis, sociology, and political science. It is also a major source of work for the legal profession, as well as being an important subject for academics and writers in other disciplines. Legal writing can be difficult, but the basics are not complicated: Use simple language that is easy for readers to understand and avoid jargon or technical terms where possible. Legal articles should be clear and concise, and based on factual information rather than opinion. See also: legal philosophy; legal theory; legal education; and legal history. Legal concepts are used in other fields, such as business law and public administration. For a comprehensive treatment of these topics, see introductory law; administrative law; business law; contract law; criminal law; evidence; and tort law.