What Is Law?

Law is a collection of rules that govern a society. It can be in the form of written or unwritten, and it may be based on custom or policies enforced through judicial decision rather than through statutes. Law encompasses all aspects of a society’s behaviour and activities, from the right to vote and own property to censorship, homicide and war. The word itself derives from the Latin legis, meaning “way” or “path”, and law can be seen as a set of directions for human conduct.

The development of modern law has been a long and complicated process. The legal system contains elements from a wide variety of periods and social settings, and it has managed to adapt successfully to changes in society and the disputes that arise within government. Today, a lawyer can work in a range of fields such as public and private sector employment, banking and taxation, commercial litigation, insurance, labour relations, intellectual property law and even environmental policy.

While the majority of law is based on precedent, there are many areas of the field which have no history and must be judged on their own merits. For example, a court must judge a case of negligence on the basis of its own evidence and circumstances rather than simply following precedents. In addition, the rules of evidence must be balanced with the judge’s judgment in deciding whether something is admissible or not. This balance can be reflected in the way the courts make their decisions, with earlier cases having less weight than later ones.

As a result, modern law is complex and often difficult to understand. There are a number of legal fields which are particularly specialised:

Immigration and nationality law concern the rights of citizens to live and work in other countries, and to acquire or lose citizenship. Family law covers marriage, divorce and the rights of children. Criminal law involves the prosecution of criminals and civil remedies for the victims of crime. Labour law focuses on the tripartite industrial relationship between employer, worker and trade union, and includes regulation of working conditions and the right to strike. Civil and criminal procedure concern the rules that must be followed as trials and appeals are conducted, including a citizen’s right to a fair trial and hearing.

Unlike statutory law, which is created by the legislative branch of a government, common law has evolved over the centuries through a series of judicial decisions. This is why judges have been described as “making the law” for hundreds of years. The evolution of the law has also been facilitated by the fact that a judge’s decision is likely to influence the decisions of future judges in the same jurisdiction, which means that the common law is essentially a living tradition. Other law systems are based on religion, such as Jewish Halakha and Islamic Shari’ah. Christian canon law also survives in some church communities. These rely on further human elaboration to produce comprehensive legal systems.