What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules that society or government develops in order to deal with crime and social relationships. It has also been described as a science and as the art of justice. It can refer to a general area of law, such as criminal or business law or to a particular field within the discipline, such as public or family law. It may also refer to the people who work in this field.

The precise nature of law is a subject of longstanding debate. A key feature is that it is normative, and thus possesses a degree of objectivity that does not exist in empirical sciences (such as the law of gravity) or in social science (such as the theory of equality). This feature means that laws cannot mandate behaviours that are beyond human capabilities.

There are a number of key features that must be present in any legal system in order for it to be considered a lawful regime. These include adherence to core human rights standards, including those related to privacy, freedom of expression and the free movement of persons; a rule of law that is publicly promulgated and equally enforced; a separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of the state; a court of appeals with independence from the legislature; and mechanisms for checks on power and smooth transition of power.

In a political sense, the term “law” can also be used to describe the set of rules and regulations that governs a nation. These might be derived from an elected constitution or statutes, or might be based on the custom and policies of a particular people (e.g. Shari’ah law). In the case of a nation, the laws might also be based on the treaties and agreements concluded with other states.

A country with a rule of law has an enforceable system of laws that are generally respected and upheld. This is usually reflected in the way that the courts are structured and how easily citizens can access information about the rules and how to enforce them.

Laws can be divided into two major categories – civil and criminal. Civil law encompasses such things as contracts and property, while criminal law covers offences against a community, such as murder and robbery. There are many different fields of law, such as tort, which deals with compensation for damage to an individual; taxation, which covers the collection and payment of taxes; and employment law, which encompasses issues such as maternity leave and disciplinary proceedings. There are also a number of specialised fields such as immigration and citizenship law; and family and consumer law. These fields often overlap and can be difficult to define.