What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules that are enforced by social or governmental institutions. It serves many purposes, including establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. It is a field of study, and a career choice for those who want to help make the world a better place.

The precise meaning of law is controversial, but it generally refers to a system of rules that imposes responsibilities and prohibitions on individuals and groups. It is often contrasted with the natural law, a philosophical concept that holds that there are unchanging moral principles underlying human behaviour and relationships.

Governments may make laws through constitutional, parliamentarian or executive processes. The laws of a country are the legal basis for its political system, which can be democratic or authoritarian. The law can also be based on custom, religious precepts or on the elaboration of natural laws by judges and lawyers.

In modern times, the concept of law has expanded to include economic laws aimed at controlling market forces, such as competition laws or antitrust laws. It also includes consumer laws, regulating products such as cars or airlines, and employment laws that deal with the tripartite industrial relationship of worker, employer and trade union.

Other aspects of the law include administrative laws, addressing matters such as taxation or the procedures for obtaining a passport; and criminal law, which relates to the criminal justice system and the rules and principles that govern it. Commercial law covers areas such as contracts, business partnerships and mergers. Banking and financial regulation is another area of law that seeks to control business practices.

Laws are often drafted by committees of the legislature or by individual legislators, and may be subject to a wide range of review and debate. They can be influenced by political, ideological or personal factors, and by the needs of the economy or society as a whole. For example, an important aspect of antitrust law is that it seeks to prevent businesses from colluding to restrict supply and manipulate prices.

In addition to the drafting of laws, courts are involved in hearing and judging cases, and their activities are described in legal terms such as discovery (the examination by lawyers of facts and documents in possession of the opponents), a docket or log of brief entries of court proceedings, and the en banc decision of a court of appeals when the full bench participates, rather than only the usual number of judges. Another common term is impeachment, which refers to the process by which a member of the House of Representatives can call into question the conduct of a senior government official. This article is part of the Wiki Education Foundation’s Law and Government category. It was created by a contributor from Australia and reviewed by an editor from the United States.