What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules a society or government develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. The word can also be used to refer to the people who work in this system – the lawyers, judges and police officers who enforce it. Law can be defined in a number of different ways, depending on how it is viewed by a particular individual or group. For example, some people see the law as a series of commands or threats of sanctions from a sovereign power; others believe that the laws are a reflection of underlying natural processes.

Historically, there have been many different legal systems in use around the world. Some, such as the United States, employ a common law system, in which judges base decisions on cases that have been previously decided by other judges; this collection of judicial rulings is called case law. Other countries, such as Japan, have a civil law system, which is based on codes of behavior and rights that are explicitly spelled out. In either type of system, it is usually possible to distinguish between procedural law (rules that govern how things are done) and substantive law, which is a set of rights or duties that determine what is considered right and wrong.

There are many different types of law, covering a wide range of subjects. Banking law, for example, sets out the minimum standards that banks must meet and regulations about best practice when investing money. In addition, it includes law that covers how banks can be held accountable for their actions and the protection of customer data. Another area of law is regulation, which is used to control industries such as energy, water and telecommunications.

Intellectual property law covers the rights people have over creative works, such as art, music and literature; these are protected by a form of copyright. Inventions that are created are covered by a patent system. Trademark law protects the rights of companies to their names and logos. And trust law regulates the way in which money saved up by individuals for retirement or other purposes is invested.

The concept of law is constantly changing as societies adapt to new needs and challenges, but there are some things that all laws have in common. Most importantly, they are a means of controlling the behaviour of individuals and groups and they are usually enforced by the state through the application of penalties. For these reasons, the law is widely regarded as an essential component of a democratic society. It can shape politics, economics and history in various ways. The degree to which it is able to do so depends on a number of factors, including the extent to which core human and procedural rights are enshrined in the constitution and other constitutional documents, and whether there are mechanisms in place to prevent abuses of power by politicians or judges. It is also dependent on the extent to which the law is accessible and understandable by people.