What Is Law?

The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways and acts as a mediator of relations between people. It can be state-enforced, either by a legislature through statutes and regulations; imposed by the executive, through decrees and regulations; or established by judges through precedent in common law jurisdictions. It can also be privately created through contracts and other legally binding agreements, including arbitration agreements which offer alternatives to standard court litigation. Its precise definition is a matter of ongoing debate, but it is generally understood to encompass a set of rules and regulations that are enforced by social or governmental institutions.

The principal purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Laws may be based on natural or human precepts, such as the Jewish Halakhah or Islamic Sharia, and can be elaborated through interpretation and creative jurisprudence.

Civil law includes areas such as torts (personal injury) and contract law, which regulates agreements to exchange goods or services. Criminal law deals with offences against a person or their property, such as murder or defamation, and provides a mechanism for the government to punish the offender. Labour law focuses on the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade unions and involves collective bargaining regulation. Family law covers marriage and divorce proceedings, child rights and the responsibilities of parents; and transactional law encompasses issues concerning business and money. The law also governs a wide range of legal procedures, such as discovery and arraignment.