What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules and regulations set by authority and enforced to govern a society. It covers a wide range of subjects, from contracts and property to murder and taxes. Some legal fields, such as labour and criminal law, deal with specific activities whereas others, like tax law or banking law, are more broad-based. Law also provides a rich source of scholarly inquiry in such areas as history, philosophy and economic analysis.

A key concept of law is the principle of precedent, which states that a court’s decision in one case must be followed in a subsequent case unless there is compelling evidence or significantly different facts. This is a central aspect of common law systems, where judges are seen as depositories of the law and are bound by an oath to decide cases according to the law of the land.

Another key concept of law is the principle of inculpatory evidence, which states that a witness must testify that they believe a defendant committed a crime. This is a significant element of the criminal justice system in common law countries.

The principal purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Dispute resolution is one of the core functions of the state and laws are designed to address conflicting interests by resolving them through political debate or policymaking.

In addition to resolving disputes, laws also establish a framework for society and help shape individual values. These values can be reflected in legislation, constitutions and policies, but are also embodied in culture and custom. For example, religious law reflects values in the form of a code of conduct for believers.

Law is a complex and fascinating subject, spanning a wide range of topics from the mundane to the sublime. However, the most important aspects of the law are its generality and the principles of justice.

The practice of law is typically overseen by a government or independent regulating body such as a bar association or law council. Modern lawyers achieve distinct professional identity through specified procedures such as a qualifying examination, are required to have a particular academic qualification (usually a Bachelor of Laws, a Master of Legal Studies or a Juris Doctor degree) and must be licensed to practise law.