What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules and regulations enforced through social or governmental institutions to ensure that individuals and communities adhere to what’s right. It is a central subject for scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. Law governs many of the most complex issues faced by human beings including equality and fairness. Its deeper dimensions, however, extend to questions of morality, concepts of natural justice and the will of a deity.

The law may be defined as “a rule imposed by authority upon those under its authority commanding what is to be done and forbidding what is not to be done.” It is permanent as to time, uniform as to persons, and universal as to places. It is often the product of a combination of legislation, executive decrees and judge-made precedent in common law jurisdictions.

Law shapes politics, business and society in diverse ways and provides a framework for resolving conflict. It allows a country to keep the peace and maintain the status quo while protecting minorities against majorities, preserving individual rights and facilitating orderly social change. Some laws are more effective than others at achieving these objectives. An authoritarian government, for example, can keep the peace but is less likely to protect minority rights and promote equality.

There are three categories of law that can be broadly distinguished:

Civil Law

Also known as continental or Romano-Germanic law, civil law covers about 60% of the world’s population and is based on concepts, categories and rules derived from Roman law. The main categories are contracts, property, torts and criminal law. Civil law is a well-organized system that favors cooperation between people. Its rules are usually arranged in comprehensive codes and avoid excessive detail.

Property law concerns the ownership of real and personal property. It involves the distinction between a right in rem (ownership of a particular piece of property) and a right in personam (a compensation for a loss or injury). It also deals with a wide range of administrative processes such as land registration and title deeds.

Labour law covers the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union. It includes collective bargaining regulation and the right to strike. Evidence law concerns the rules that must be followed in court for a case to proceed. Criminal law deals with conduct considered harmful to society and which can be punished by a fine or imprisonment. Family and immigration law concern the rights of citizens to marriage, children and financial compensation in cases of separation and divorce.