What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a subject of longstanding debate, and it has been described as both a science and an art. Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people. Law is broadly divided into civil and criminal areas. Civil law covers disputes between individuals, such as property rights, and criminal law covers offenses against the state.

In addition to settling disputes, law also provides a set of standards and procedures for ensuring that everyone is treated fairly. This includes legal training for members of the legal profession, and judicial selection and discipline. It also ensures that the courts can be trusted to uphold a person’s fundamental rights and liberties, and that government officials are accountable to the law. The rule of law requires laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, and independently adjudicated, and is consistent with international human rights norms and standards.

Legal systems vary widely across nations, with some based on the rule of a single legislator through statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or by judge-made precedent (common law jurisdictions). Private individuals can create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements that are generally enforced in court, and they can create trusts that transfer ownership of assets.

The law’s purpose in a nation is to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, protect minority rights, preserve personal freedoms, promote social justice and provide for orderly social change. In some cases, the law may be used to serve these ends in ways that are unjust, such as when a military dictatorship keeps the peace in a country but oppresses minorities or political opponents.

There are a number of concepts related to the law that have been defined by philosophers and others. These include civil law and common law, tort law, contract law, administrative law, criminal law, constitutional law, religious law and canon law. Other important terms include appeals – The process of overturning a lower court’s ruling. discovery – The examination, before trial, by lawyers of the facts and documents in possession of their opponents to help them prepare for the case. continuance – The decision by a judge to postpone the trial until another date. court reporter – A person who makes a word-for-word record of the proceedings in a courtroom and provides a transcript upon request. en banc – “In the bench” or full bench. A court session in which the entire bench participates, rather than the usual quorum of three judges. In the United States, the Supreme Court usually meets en banc when it hears an important case.