What is Law?

Law is the system of rules that a society develops in order to cope with crime, business agreements and social relationships. The term also refers to the profession of lawyers and judges who work within this system. A legal system must be able to deal with complex and sensitive issues such as morality, politics and economics and a range of different legal systems around the world reflect these in differing degrees.

A society’s laws may be imposed by group legislature, resulting in statutes; enacted by the executive, resulting in decrees and regulations; or established by judges through precedent, resulting in common law. Private individuals also create binding contracts and arbitration agreements that provide alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation. The law informs everyday life in a wide variety of ways: criminal law regulates the activities that constitute crimes; family and property law cover marriage, divorce and the rights of children; constitutional law covers a country’s constitution, written or unwritten, and the rights encoded within it; and administrative law deals with public administration.

Various theories of the origins and nature of law have been advanced, but they all share a view that the law reflects a mix of the felt necessities of the time (e.g., the need to keep peace and maintain the status quo), the popular moral and political theories of that time, and the intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, of a nation’s judges. This makes it impossible to reduce the law to a set of logical axioms.