What is Law?


Law, also known as legal order, is the system of rules that is used to regulate the behavior of individuals, groups and societies. It involves a series of governmental, social, and private institutions that create and enforce rules of conduct for the public good.

The precise definition of law is a matter of ongoing debate. However, most jurists agree that law is an instrument of securing justice in society.

A legal order can be formed by a group of legislators through statutes, or by the executive through decrees and regulations or by judges through precedent in common law jurisdictions. The resulting rules may be arranged by subject in a constitution, written or tacit, and are usually enforceable through the courts.

There are three major categories of laws, each a set of rules and standards for conduct in a particular area of life. These are: labour law, civil procedure and criminal procedure.

Employment law deals with workplace rights, such as job security or the minimum wage. It also includes laws regulating trade unions and the right to strike.

Property law is concerned with ownership and possession of tangible things, including land, buildings, vehicles and intangible items such as stocks and shares. It can include issues such as mortgages, rental agreements and statutory systems for land registration.

Contract law is a branch of law that regulates the formation and operation of legal agreements, such as a marriage contract or a business deal. It covers contracts between two or more people and can range from a simple agreement to buy a bus ticket to the complex regulations around stock trading on an exchange.

The legal system of a nation-state is governed by the rule of law, which ensures that all actors, whether government or private, are accountable and that justice is delivered. It can be referred to as the ‘law of the land’ or ‘the rule of law’ and is generally described as being clear, stable, publicized and evenly applied.

Some scholars, such as Hans Kelsan and John Erskine, believe that law is the command of a sovereign or monarch containing a ‘common rule of life for his subjects’ and obliging them to obey.

A more recent, and widely endorsed, theory of the function of rights is that of a claim-right, or the capacity or power of a right-holder to demand. This view, often associated with Joel Feinberg and Stephen Darwall, emphasizes that rights are for or entitle a person (or group) to obtain certain goods or services.

According to this theory, when a right is in conflict with other reasons that trump it or exclude it from consideration, the right preempts it by qualitatively preceding it (or “punching” above its normative weight) and thus preventing any decision that would violate the right.

The stringency of a right’s peremptoriness is a function of the scope of conflicting reasons that it trumps or excludes and of how demanding the duties grounding the right are.