What is Law?


Law is the set of enforceable rules that a society or government develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. It has been viewed as both an art and a science, although its precise definition remains subject to debate. It has also been compared to other disciplines such as natural science (as in the law of gravity) and social science (as in the law of supply and demand).

Law combines elements from both philosophy and sociology, as well as a good deal of historical scholarship. It is unique in that it is not a descriptive discipline (as in biology or the physical sciences), but rather an analytical discipline that examines the social, political and ethical aspects of human activities and institutions.

The main functions of the law are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberty and property. It is also a mechanism for promoting social justice and providing for ordered, social change. Different legal systems serve these purposes better than others. For example, an authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it will also oppress minorities and political opponents. On the other hand, a democratic government will generally promote individual rights and preserve social justice, while remaining open to a degree of peaceful social change.

A central element of law is that it imposes accountability on both the state and private actors. This ensures that the law is clear and publicized, that it is stable and applied evenly, and that it protects individual liberties, freedoms and property. It is important that the law also be accessible to all and be easily understood by laypersons.

Three core subjects make up the bulk of law, though there are many sub-fields. These are criminal law, constitutional law and civil law. Criminal law consists of the body of laws dealing with alleged offences against the community, such as murder or theft. Constitutional law concerns the fundamental principles of a democracy such as freedom of speech, expression and assembly; it also covers the right to life and liberty. Civil law covers areas such as family and labour law. Labour law involves the tripartite industrial relationship between employer, worker and trade union; it includes the right to strike and other workplace protections. Family law encompasses marriage and divorce proceedings and the rights of children. Estate and contract law are other common fields.

From an academic standpoint, the study of law is difficult. It lacks a central theoretical framework which could explain the role and function of law, as do disciplines such as economics or history. This has led some philosophers to suggest that the study of law should be merged with ethics or social theory.

The practice of law is regulated by either a state or an independent governing body such as a bar association, bar council or law society. Modern lawyers achieve a distinct professional identity through specified procedures such as passing an examination and undergoing a rigorous legal education that culminates in a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Civil Law or a Juris Doctor degree.