What Is Law?


Law is a body of rules, codes and standards that control human behavior and keep society stable. People rely on laws to predict the consequences of their actions so they can plan accordingly, cooperate with others and develop shared interests. Ideally, the law should be clear and publicized so people can access it and be treated fairly. Moreover, it should be reasonably stable so that citizens can have confidence in the stability of their rights and obligations over time.

Law encompasses many subjects and is a vast discipline. Some branches of law include contract law, property law, criminal law and labour law. However, the law also applies to many other societal activities. For example, administrative law relates to how governments are run. Labour law covers the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union and involves issues such as minimum wages and collective bargaining. In addition, civil procedure and evidence law cover the processes that courts must follow when a trial or appeal is to be heard.

Legal subjects are governed by a variety of different international conventions and national laws. The legal system is a central institution of society and reflects a country’s political culture and history. In most nations, the power to make and enforce laws rests with the governing authority, which can be a constitutional monarchy or republic, an elected government or an unelected tribunal.

Besides providing guidelines for society, the law plays other vital roles such as establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The law is not immune to criticism and scholarly debate. In fact, differing viewpoints promote healthy discussion and advance the field of law.

For example, the philosophies of Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham have influenced the definitions of law. The utilitarian school of thought states that the law is a collection of commands, backed by threats, from a sovereign to which men obey. In contrast, natural lawyers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, believe that the law reflects innate moral principles that are unchangeable.

The concept of the rule of law is a fundamental principle of most modern western democracies and relates to the responsibilities of a democratically elected government. The notion that every citizen is subject to publicly disclosed laws and codes ensures accountability and prevents the emergence of anarchy or a Hobbesian war of all against all.

A constitutional government is the ideal, but it can be difficult to achieve. Inevitably, some countries suffer from authoritarian regimes and other types of official arbitrariness that limit the protection offered by law. In addition, the scope and nature of the law varies from one country to another as the different social systems, histories, cultures and traditions influence the creation and enforcement of law. As a result, the rule of law is not a perfect concept but it is an essential one for modern societies to thrive. As such, it should be defended and cherished in all nations.