What is the Law?

The law is a system of rules that a society or community recognises as regulating the behaviour of its members. It has a broad scope and its precise definition is a subject of ongoing debate. It can be created and enforced by a legislature, through statutes; by an executive, through decrees and regulations; or by judges, through case-law precedent (in common law jurisdictions). The judicial interpretation of the law is important in these systems as it allows finer-grained, more precise guidance than either legislative or agency-promulgated statements.

The principles behind the law are generally based on culture, social customs, religious beliefs or books like the Torah, the Talmud and the Koran. People trust ideas based on these factors because they are familiar with them, often through family and social experience.

In some countries, a legislature creates laws through a democratic process. This is known as constitutional law. Other countries have a monarch or other figurehead head of state who declares the law. They are often called an absolute monarchy or the constitutional monarchy. In a republic, the power to declare the law rests with the legislature and parliament.

Some laws apply to everyone in a country. Others only apply to certain groups, for example women or children. Most countries have a legal profession. These professionals are known as attorneys or solicitors in the US, and barristers in the UK. They are trained to interpret and argue the laws of a particular country.

A lawyer will read and interpret the laws in a particular country, including any constitutions or other documents that set out the legal system. They will then use their expertise to advise their clients about the best course of action to take in a situation. The laws of a particular country can be complex, but they are often well-written and logically presented, making them fairly easy to understand.

Many laws are in effect in a wide variety of situations. For example, contract law regulates agreements to exchange goods and services, from buying a bus ticket to trading options on a derivatives market. Property law defines people’s rights and duties towards tangible (physical) possessions, including houses or cars, and intangible assets such as bank accounts and shares of stock. Tort law helps people make claims for compensation when they or their property are harmed, whether by an automobile accident or defamation of character.

The law also sets out the rules that govern how a government or company should be run, such as taxation and corporate governance. The law also applies to a country’s military and police force, and to war and the military. For further articles on the role of the law in modern life, see law and government; censorship; crime and punishment; and legal philosophy. For an analysis of the relationship between a country’s political structure and its legal system, see law and politics; civil society.; and the G20.