What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that are enforced by a governing body to ensure that people and organizations obey them, and that justice is served if they do not. It encompasses a wide range of subjects, from criminal and civil procedure to labor and family laws. Law also includes the legal framework that governs a nation and defines its borders. Law is a fundamental building block of society, and it is important that people understand how law works and what it entails.

The rule of law is a principle that requires all people, institutions and entities — including the State itself — to be subject to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated. It is a key component of democracy and good governance, and it promotes human rights and provides a basis for sustainable development and economic growth. It also entails the promotion of transparent, accessible and accountable government, as well as effective, impartial and accessible justice.

Legal systems are complex and vary widely from nation to nation, with some providing better services than others. A centralized, authoritarian government may serve to keep the peace and maintain order, but it can oppress minorities or political opponents, as was the case in Burma under the military dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, and it can fail to address the needs of people for equality, freedom and justice. A democratic regime, on the other hand, can be vulnerable to revolution, but it can serve as a bulwark against tyranny and a platform for stability and prosperity.

A nation’s legal system is based on many factors, and the sources of law are varied. The most important are, arguably, legislation (including constitutional statutes and statutes of parliament) and custom. Codifications of laws date back millennia, and the modern civil law systems of most countries derive from Roman law, which incorporated legal custom into its code through a process known as judicial precedent and jurisprudence.

While the concept of law has been described in a variety of ways, most definitions focus on the fact that it is a set of enforceable rules that are created by the governing body to regulate behavior. Other definitions emphasize the importance of a specific area of law, such as labor or criminal law. Finally, some scholars have suggested that a non-modern perspective on what constitutes law, one that does not dichotomize reality into natural and human/natural, might prove useful in developing a more unified approach to the subject. For example, the Inuit people of the Arctic have a culture that demonstrates this approach. They have a law that is rooted in their understanding of the world, which does not assume a dichotomy between humanity and nature. This type of cultural understanding might help us move beyond the ongoing debate between scientific objectivity and a humanistic sense of justice.