What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules developed by a community to govern its behavior within a specific territory, and enforced by a controlling authority through penalties. Law covers many subjects, including crime, business, social relationships, property, finance, and more.

A central element of law is the concept of the rule of law, which means that every member of a society, including the highest levels of government, is subject to the laws established by that society. This concept is a constraint on rulers, so that they cannot create or enforce law in ways that are above the law or outside of it, and also protects citizens against government arbitrariness.

There are a number of different theories of law. Hans Kelsen created the ‘pure theory of law’, which asserts that law is a ‘normative science’ that focuses on defining certain rules to abide by. Then there are utilitarian law definitions, such as that of John Austin, which argues that the purpose of the legal system is to maximize the benefits of the society it serves. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s natural law theories assert that the basis of law is a set of moral principles.

Most societies have a legal system that includes legislation, regulation, and court decisions. Some countries, such as the United States, employ a common law system, which rely on judicial decisions based on previous cases that are then collected and codified into a book known as case law. Other countries, such as Japan, have a civil law system, which relies on a code that explicitly specifies the reasoning judges must follow when making a decision. In either system, legal decision-making can be influenced by the “doctrine of precedent” or “stare decisis,” in which a ruling made by a higher court binds lower courts in similar cases.

The legal system defines a wide variety of activities in a community, from contracts to intellectual property. Contract law governs agreements to exchange goods or services, and it covers everything from buying a car to executing an option on a stock. Property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible property, such as land or real estate, and personal property (like computers or cars), whereas intellectual property is the legal right to a company name or brand or intangible property, such as shares of stock.

When a person commits a crime, that becomes the focus of criminal law. The legal system tries to prevent crimes from occurring by punishing offenders, and it also works to ensure that people can be compensated when they are wronged or injured through the actions of others. For example, tort law compensates victims for damage to their property or personal injury caused by someone else, while laws against terrorism and racial discrimination protect communities from harmful behaviour. This is why laws are so important to a well-run society. However, the laws themselves are often complicated and difficult to understand. The legal system is also a source of contention, and it may be tempting for individuals to find loopholes or evade the stricter rules.