What is Law?


Law is the set of rules and regulations that a society enforces to regulate behaviour. These may be enacted by a legislature through statutes; created by an executive through decrees and regulations; or established by judges through precedent in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can also create legally binding laws through contracts and the estates process.

In general, law refers to the system of rules and responsibilities that governs the relationships between human beings, between human and animal life or between humans and the environment. It is more specific when referring to the body of law that defines the rights and obligations of a citizen or legal subject, as well as the rules and processes of a court of justice.

The study of law is called Jurisprudence and the people who practice it are known as lawyers, judge and magistrate. There are many different fields of law, such as criminal law and civil law. These fields encompass a broad range of activities, such as the right to a fair trial, the right to privacy and the right to compensation for a wrongful act.

A society’s system of laws can be influenced by its culture, traditions and customs, as well as by the state’s political and economic structure. Max Weber reshaped thinking on the extent of state power, and modern military, policing and bureaucratic powers over everyday citizens pose new challenges for accountability that older writers such as Locke or Montesquieu could not have envisaged. These complexities have given rise to the field of Law and Society, which explores the relationship between law and society.

The rules of law are the foundation of a legal system and the basis for its legitimacy, although these principles can be contested and are not necessarily universally valid. Some law is explicitly based on religious precepts, such as Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, while Christian canon law remains an important part of some church communities. However, most law is based on human elaboration through interpretation, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy) and Ijma (consensus).

The legal profession can be considered the embodiment of a societal concept of law, as its members follow a code of ethics and a rigorous academic training that culminates in a Master of Laws, a Bachelor of Laws or a Juris Doctor degree. Legal practitioners have distinct professional identities and achieve distinct social recognition through the procedures of the legal system. This has led to the use of titles of respect such as Esquire and Doctor of Laws. The legal system is also supported by the rule of law, which includes judicial review and a statutory system of enforcing laws through courts and tribunals.