What is Law?


Law is a set of rules that are enforced by the state to ensure a peaceful society and to punish people who break those rules. It’s a hugely important thing, but it can be difficult to define because legal systems and individuals have different ideas about what it means.

A law can be something written down, such as a statute or a court judgment, or it could be an unwritten code of conduct, such as the Golden Rule or the Ten Commandments. Laws can also be the governing principles of a profession or activity, such as the rules that govern a football club’s operations or the regulations that govern medical practice.

Laws are enforced by a range of mechanisms, including police and other security forces, courts, tribunals and arbitrators, and the military. They can be created by legislatures, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or established by judges, resulting in case law. They can also be privately created by individuals, resulting in contracts and other binding agreements.

The law is not a fixed entity; it can be changed by changing political, economic and social circumstances. For example, the law against racial discrimination was altered by the Supreme Court in 2013. The law is often seen as an attempt to balance the interests of the community with individual rights and freedoms. However, there is also debate about how much power the judicial branch of government should have in interpreting the law and deciding when it should be amended or replaced.

There are many kinds of law, which reflect the diversity of human societies and their needs. For example, immigration law covers the right of foreigners to live and work in a country, and refugee law covers the right to seek asylum. Employment law covers the relationships between employers and employees, including the employment contract, and civil liberties laws protect a person’s rights and freedoms, such as the right to privacy. Commercial law covers agreements to exchange goods and services, such as a sale of a car or a bank loan; contract law, family and criminal law are other branches of this area. Finally, biolaw focuses on the intersection of law and the life sciences.

People talk about law in everyday speech. For example, a police officer is described as being “on the job” or someone who is “killin’ it in a competition is said to be “making the law.” There are also many legal articles and journals available online, some of which take a particular position on recent changes to legislation. Others, such as those in the field of workplace relations, provide a deeper insight into the importance of the law. The language of these articles tends to be more technical and assumes some prior knowledge. However, these articles are well-resourced and include references to relevant legislation. They can be particularly useful for students of law.