What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules that govern a society. It sets standards of behaviour, maintains order and resolves disputes. It also protects freedoms and rights. Law can be state-enforced or private. It can be made by a collective legislature, resulting in statutes or decrees; or by an executive authority through administrative regulations and directives; or it may be established by judges as case law, usually in common law jurisdictions. Law may also be imposed by religious institutions in the form of sharia laws.

The study of law is complex, as it covers a wide range of subjects which are intertwined and overlap. For example, labour law is the study of a tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union; criminal law is the study of crimes, their punishment and defences; and civil procedure concerns what happens in courtrooms and whether evidence is admissible.

Legal system – the legal system in a country or region, including courts, tribunals and other institutions that administer justice. The legal system is transparent and public; it guarantees human rights and property, contract and procedural rights; and ensures that government as well as private actors are held accountable. The legal system is impartial, efficient and timely; it has adequate resources and reflects the makeup of its community. Law enforcement – the practice of detecting and preventing crime, by police, soldiers, and others. This includes investigating complaints, executing search warrants, prosecuting criminals and rehabilitating convicts.

Regulatory bodies – agencies in the public or private sector that are responsible for setting and enforcing legal standards. They include health, education and safety regulators; competition authorities; financial services watchdogs; energy, water and transport regulators; and taxation authorities.

Impeachment – The constitutional process of calling someone’s actions into question, such as by bringing them before the House of Representatives for trial in the Senate. In a federal system of judicial review, an appeals court can decide that a lower-level decision was wrong and issue a new ruling on its behalf. In some cases, the appellate court will decide to hear the case en banc (all judges sitting together) rather than on the regular basis by panels of three.

Justice – A principle of fairness, equal treatment, and due process in all aspects of law and society, founded on the idea that every person is born free and equal and has certain inalienable rights. This concept has led to the development of a number of international treaties and conventions, most notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nevertheless, the concept of justice remains highly controversial. This is partly because it is an abstract concept which can vary from one individual to another. There are also competing conceptions of what constitutes justice, as reflected in a great many philosophical theories on the subject. However, most people would agree that a well-functioning legal system is essential to a functioning society. Without it, chaos and disorder are more likely to reign. There are several arguments that have been advanced as to why a well-functioning legal system is important, including the benefits of peace and security, economic prosperity, and individual liberty and privacy.

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