What Is the Law?


The law is a set of rules created by social or governmental institutions that impose obligations and prohibitions on people. It is a complex and contested concept, and it has been described as an art, a science, and a social system. It has many functions, including establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Some nations have more effective legal systems than others. For example, a nation ruled by an authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it could also oppress minorities or political opponents.

In a democracy, laws are created and enforced through elected representatives. These representatives are accountable to the public, which is an important part of the democratic process. The law includes a wide range of topics, such as contract, criminal, family, international, property, and tax laws. Laws can be based on custom, tradition, or scripture. They can be written or unwritten, and they can be private or public. The law governs a variety of activities, from criminal prosecutions to contracts, from regulating land use to granting zoning permits, from taxation to employment, and from marriage to divorce.

A key aspect of the law is that it is permanent as to time, uniform in relation to all persons and situations, and universally applicable in all locations. This is a difficult standard to meet. In addition, a law must be clear and expressly state the rights and duties of individuals and groups in the society, and it must provide for a remedy if these rights are violated.

To help ensure that the law is applied consistently, courts of law develop a system called case law. This is a body of previous court decisions on similar issues that help judges decide how to apply the law in a particular situation. This helps to prevent a judge or jury from showing bias.

There are other types of law, such as constitutional or statutory law, that are written and codified in official documents. These laws are more likely to be followed than those that are merely custom or case law. However, the constitution and statutory laws can be changed by legislators and the supreme court.

A law is a guidepost for minimally acceptable behaviour in a society. For instance, the law may prohibit certain acts that harm or injure other people, because society has decided that these acts are wrong (for example, assault). The purpose of the law is to make sure that everyone receives a fair deal in life and that disputes are resolved fairly. This is called distributive justice. It is different from corrective justice, which seeks to remedy injustices. Both kinds of justice are necessary for a well-ordered society.