What Is Law?

Law is the body of rules that regulates human conduct and the institutions that govern society. Law provides the basis for a wide range of activities, including the protection of people’s liberty and property, the provision of social services and justice, the settlement of international disputes and the regulation of business activity. It also forms the foundation for scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.

As a rule, laws are imposed by governments or other governing bodies. They may be explicit statutes or implicit judicial decisions (the “doctrine of stare decisis”).

The principal purposes of law are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights. Some laws achieve these more successfully than others. For example, an authoritarian government may keep the peace and preserve the status quo, but it may oppress minorities or resist the aspirations of its citizens for more democratic governance.

Some laws are based on religious precepts, such as Jewish Halakha or Islamic Sharia. Others are based on philosophical theories such as natural law or utilitarianism, while still others are derived from the experiences of past generations of judges and barristers.

Some laws are designed to regulate commercial activity, such as competition law which deals with anti-trust and monopoly behaviours, or consumer law dealing with the rights of consumers in contracts. Other laws are intended to reflect societal values such as the protection of intellectual property, or to prevent harm to the environment.