What Is Law?


Law is a framework that helps to ensure a safe and stable society, by setting out rules that must be followed. If the rules are broken then sanctions can be imposed to protect people and property. A key element of the law is that it is enforced by state institutions. This helps to reduce the power of individuals over others and protects them from unwarranted aggression. The law also enables people to interact with other people in an orderly and fair manner.

The precise definition of law is a subject of ongoing debate. The most commonly accepted view is that the law is a system of commands and penalties which are enforced by state institutions. This includes judicial and legislative institutions such as courts and parliaments, but also a range of regulatory bodies. The laws themselves may be written by a group or individual legislature, resulting in statutes; they can be created by the executive through decrees and regulations; or they can be established by judges through the doctrine of precedent (Latin for “to stand by decisions”) in common law systems.

Law can be applied to a variety of social and economic activities, and has a number of different branches. For example, contract law regulates agreements between private parties – from buying a bus ticket to trading options on the derivatives market. Property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible properties, such as land or buildings, and intangible assets, such as shares and debts. Banking and financial regulation set minimum standards for the amounts of capital banks must hold, and rules about best practice in investing, to prevent crises like the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Other fields of law include labour, criminal and civil rights. Labour law covers the rights and responsibilities of workers, including the right to unionise and to strike. Civil rights laws protect people against discrimination on the basis of race, religion or gender, and include protections such as the right to marry and divorce. Criminal law covers crimes against the state, and is the area of law most often associated with policing and justice.

A lawyer is a person who advises people about the law and represents them in court or other legal proceedings. A judge is a member of a court who hears cases and imposes sentences. An en banc panel is a group of judges sitting together to decide a case, as opposed to the normal practice of hearing cases by panels of three judges.

The study of law is important because it provides a way to understand the complexity of our society. The law influences politics, economics and history in a variety of ways. It is often a tool of coercion, with competing pulls such as political philosophy, economic interests and ethical values constantly jostling for recognition. The legal system is a complex and powerful instrument, which should be carefully supervised to prevent abuses of state power. Thinkers such as Max Weber have reshaped thinking on the nature of the law and its role in a democracy.

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