What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules that governs the conduct of human society. It serves the purposes of establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. A large variety of different legal systems exist and each has its own history and character.

Laws are passed by a government’s legislature and enforced through the judicial branch. The law can also set limits on what people may do, such as requiring car owners to wear seat belts or not smoking in public. If the law is broken, the person who broke it can be punished by paying a fine or going to jail.

There are many different types of laws: contract law regulates the exchange of goods or services, including everything from purchasing a bus ticket to trading options on the stock market; property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible assets, such as cars and houses; tort law covers the entire spectrum of wrongs that humans can inflict upon one another; and criminal law deals with punishment for serious crimes like murder and robbery. There are also several branches of law that apply to different fields within a country, such as immigration and nationality law (the right of citizens to live in other nations), labor law (the laws that define workers’ wages and working conditions) and biolaw (the intersection between law and the life sciences).

The legal system in any nation or region is shaped by its culture, history and traditions. For example, the law in the United States traces its roots to English common law, but has developed its own distinctive features over time. Other regions have distinct legal traditions as well, such as Chinese law and Indian law.

In addition to statutes, the governing authority of any country establishes regulations that clarify and explain the meaning of laws or set standards for specific activities. Regulations usually have the force of law in addition to or instead of a statute, but only for the particular subject on which they are written. For example, federal law in the United States focuses on areas that are expressly granted to the federal government under the Constitution, such as interstate commerce, money, military affairs and foreign relations. The regulations that are created by executive branch agencies can also have the effect of law, depending on whether they comply with the Chevron doctrine. Judicial interpretations of laws and regulations often have the effect of law as well, especially in cases that go to court.

Laws vary widely among nations and there is a great deal of debate about what constitutes law. There are numerous books containing different definitions and theories of law. In general, the concept of law is an important part of the political and social structure in every country and is essential for a civilized society.