What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that regulates the behavior of a society and enforces those rules by imposing penalties on those who violate them. It consists of formal rules and informal understandings that form the foundation of legal systems throughout the world, and its precise definition is the subject of longstanding debate. Various theories of law include a view that it is the product of social consensus and a belief that it embodies principles of justice. Some theorists have even argued that it is a system of control, while others have defined it as a system of rights and obligations.

Law covers many different aspects of human life, from regulating air traffic to settling disputes between spouses. The most common types of law are criminal, civil, and administrative laws. Criminal law covers offences against a community, such as murder or theft, and civil law deals with private disputes between individuals, such as divorce proceedings or property settlements. Administrative law, meanwhile, deals with the management of government services and utilities, such as water, electricity, and railways.

The way in which a society sets its laws depends on its political structure, the power of the ruling group that makes and enforces them, and the way in which citizens perceive their roles in this system. For example, in most nation-states (as the states are known in international law) the laws are enacted by people who have political power and are enforceable by people with military or police power. Consequently, the laws vary widely from country to country.

One important feature of law is that it should be able to operate independently of particular orders and situations, or at least without being directly dependent on them. This requirement, sometimes referred to as the principle of generality, is an essential feature of any theory of law.

Another key feature of law is that it must be epistemologically accessible. This means that the normative statements contained in law should be available to ordinary people so that they can study and internalise them, figure out what they require of themselves, and use them as a framework for their plans and expectations. This requires an independent judiciary, transparency of public business, and integrity of legal procedures.

The legal profession, which includes lawyers and judges, is a professional career that has become increasingly popular with young people. In modern societies, the practice of law is regulated by statute and overseen by an independent regulating body such as a bar association or bar council. Lawyers are trained to provide a service to the community, and their identity is based on a legal qualification (a degree such as a Bachelor of Laws or a Juris Doctor), specific procedures for admission to the profession, and an ethical code. Moreover, the role of the legal profession is often viewed as being an instrument for promoting social justice and the rule of law.