What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that governs the behavior of individuals and groups within society. These rules are enforced by a government and may be written or tacit. They can be created by a collective legislature and result in statutes, or by an individual legislator resulting in judicial decisions (common law jurisdictions). Private individuals may also create legal contracts that are enforceable by courts.

The law serves many purposes, but four are core: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Whether these core functions are effectively served depends on the quality of a state’s rule of law: Is it clear and accessible to everyone? Does it punish all wrongdoers regardless of wealth or status? Does it allow for checks on government power, such as a free and independent press? Does it provide for the peaceful transition of power from one ruling party to another?

Modern lawyers must pass a special examination to become licensed and regulated by their respective national or provincial laws. The profession of law is also governed by rules relating to the ethical conduct of its practitioners. In addition, a lawyer must be educated to the level of a Bachelor of Laws, Bachelor of Civil Law or Juris Doctor degree.

In addition to regulating behaviour, laws establish the structure and organisation of societies. They are the basis for social policies such as health, education, welfare and the protection of property and human rights. Laws also serve as a foundation for business and economic activity. They regulate the acquisition, transfer and ownership of property; set the taxation rate; and define the terms of trade for businesses.

Law encompasses all aspects of a country’s relationship with its citizens, foreign nationals and other entities. This ranges from international treaties, such as the Geneva Conventions, to local legislation, such as municipal laws. It also includes the rules of procedure that a court must follow in hearing a case and deciding on its outcome.

A nation’s laws are influenced by its culture, history, politics and economy. In some countries, traditional values, religious beliefs and the power of family-based clans can influence a person’s adherence to laws. However, a person’s relationship with the law can also be shaped by his or her own moral values, conscience and ideas of social justice. These concepts are reflected in legal doctrines, such as natural law, canon law and Shari’ah. In addition, the shape and nature of a country’s laws are influenced by its political landscape: the people and groups who make and enforce the law, and the legitimacy of their actions, is determined by its constitution, and whether it is democratic or authoritarian. In unstable or authoritarian states, laws are often abused. This can lead to civil unrest and armed revolts. In the long run, the best way to improve a country’s law is by democratic means, with the participation of all stakeholders. A country with weak rule of law may be unable to attract foreign investment and its economy suffers.

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