What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules that a community imposes on its members, and which are enforced by a controlling authority through penalties. It may also refer to:

Law consists of a whole range of legal fields, each devoted to a particular area of life and activity. These areas of law include property law (real estate or land and the things attached to it) – this includes mortgages, licences, covenants, easements and statutory systems for registration of land; family law, which deals with marriage and divorce proceedings and children’s rights; criminal law, which covers crimes against public order or private individuals; industrial relations – which is about the tripartite relationship between employer, trade union and worker; commercial law, which concerns business and money; constitutional law, which defines a country’s national identity; and intellectual property laws, which governs copyright, patents, trademarks and other exclusive ownership rights.

The underlying principles of law are that people must obey it, and that the state has an obligation to provide justice for all. Laws are created to ensure that everyone lives in a safe and orderly manner, but they can also protect our freedoms and rights, as well as the environment.

The precise nature of law has been a subject of debate for centuries, but it can be broadly described as a set of enforceable guidelines that society creates and enforces to regulate behaviour. The precise content of a nation’s laws varies greatly, depending on its history and the sources it adopts as authoritative. For example, the United States has a common law system, which relies on judicial decisions, compiled into case law; while Japan uses a civil law system, based on codified statutes.

Some areas of law are very complex, and require specialist training to understand fully. For example, banking law sets the minimum standards that banks must meet to operate; and financial regulation establishes rules for investment in order to minimise the risk of economic crises, such as those caused by the Wall Street Crash.

Other areas of law are more general, and deal with social and environmental issues. For example, employment law focuses on the relationship between workers and employers, including their right to unionise; environmental law concerns the regulation of natural resources, such as water, gas and energy, and biolaw studies the intersection of law and the biosciences.

Almost all laws are created and passed by legislatures, with the final form of legislation becoming public law once it has been approved by Congress and signed by the President. Legislative proposals are often published in the form of bills, which are given a number to identify them and an abbreviation of its title, such as H.R. for a bill introduced in the House of Representatives, or S. for one introduced in the Senate. Bills are usually written by professional lawyers, whose role is to interpret the law and advise their clients on how best to follow it. However, ordinary citizens can also create legally binding contracts, such as a will or trust, which have legal effect.