What Is Law?


Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in countless ways. It mediates relationships and resolves disputes, establishes standards and protects liberties and rights. It also serves as a tool for governing, ordering and managing affairs of state and community. Law is not something that can be empirically verified, but it has a special relationship to humans and their minds because of its reliance on human judgments and opinions (be they comprised in judicial decisions or scholarly writing).

Legal subjects range widely and many overlap with each other. Generally there are three main areas to study – common law, civil law and criminal law. Common law focuses on how judges decide cases; civil laws refer to the rules that citizens must follow as they live their lives; criminal laws deal with the punishments for breaking these laws.

Civil law consists of legislation, including constitutions and statutes passed by governments, and custom. Its roots go back millennia, with some of the earliest codifications being the Babylonian Codex Hammurabi and ancient Roman law. Civil laws differ from common law systems which are based on judge-made precedent.

Other areas of law include family law, property and insurance, banking and taxation and commercial law. Family law concerns the rights of a couple to marry and found a family and includes rights such as the right to property and maternity leave. Property law involves the ownership of land, houses and other assets while banking and taxation laws involve the rules and regulations about how a bank should operate and the taxes it must pay.