What is Law?


Law is a system of rules that are enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. These laws can be made by a collective legislature through statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations or by judges through jurisprudence (case law). Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts. Laws vary by country/society and are not static as they continue to grow and evolve.

There is a wide variety of theories regarding the origins and nature of law. One theory is that it is a natural phenomenon that arises from people’s morality. However, this does not adequately explain why different cultures have such diverse laws and why they differ from place to place. It is more likely that law is a construct of society that evolves over time as it is a product of a changing environment.

Another theory is that law is a system of adjusting relations and ordering conduct through the systematic application of force by the state to achieve particular ends. This view is particularly influenced by the work of Max Weber and other historians who have examined how law develops and is used in modern societies.

The purpose of law is to create and maintain order in society by regulating conduct, settling disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Its fundamental principles are equity, good faith and fidelity to treaties. The core subject areas of law include criminal, administrative, civil and constitutional law. Each area of law has a number of sub-disciplines.

For example, employment law involves the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union and includes regulation of collective bargaining and a right to strike. Criminal law deals with behaviour considered to be harmful to social order and may result in imprisonment or fines. Civil law deals with the settlement of lawsuits (disputes) between citizens and organisations.

The subjects of law are vast and encompass virtually every aspect of life. Three broad categories are presented for convenience but many subjects intertwine and overlap.

Articles that provide an overview of the legal profession and legal education are available. Those concerned with the social implications of law will find articles on law and development; legal history; sociology of law; and philosophy of law. Other articles explore a variety of specific legal issues including legal aid; civil rights; constitutional law; and equality. The relationship of law to political structures is covered in articles on constitution; ideology; and political party and system. Finally, articles on the impact of law on social justice and other social concerns can be found in human rights; land reform; and the role of the legal sector in society.