What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules that a particular community or nation recognizes as regulating its members’ actions. It includes not only written statutes and regulations but also custom and policies. Laws govern everything from a person’s right to property to the safety of workers on construction sites. The branch of knowledge that studies these laws is called jurisprudence.

A person, group or organization that enforces the law is known as a law enforcement agency (police, sheriff’s department, etc). The police are often called the “force of law.” The word is used in a number of other senses:

Legal philosophy concerns how law is formulated and interpreted. Two of the most important theories are utilitarianism and natural law theory. Utilitarian law argues that the main purpose of law is to promote human happiness by establishing standards and maintaining order, providing for a stable economic environment and protecting liberty and rights. Natural law theories, such as those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Aquinas, contend that laws reflect natural, immutable principles that must be followed.

The study of law encompasses many different disciplines, from anthropology to political science and sociology. However, the subject of law is generally seen as an academic discipline in its own right. Law studies cover a broad range of topics, from the relationships between different cultures to the relationship between a nation and its citizens.

In general, laws are defined by the type of governing body that creates them. For example, a law created by a parliament is legislative while a law enacted by an executive is administrative. Different governmental systems have different purposes for law, for example, a democratic government may seek to protect its citizens while an authoritarian regime might wish to maintain stability in a country and oppress minorities.

Laws in practice are regulated by a variety of institutions, including courts, legislatures and administrative agencies. For example, contract law regulates agreements between people and businesses, criminal law addresses crimes, family law covers the status of marriage and divorce, and evidence law covers what materials are admissible in court cases.

The most well-known aspect of law is the constitution, which defines a country’s government structure and determines the rights of its citizens. Other areas of law include: