What is Law?

Law is a system of rules that a government or community recognises as regulating their members’ behaviour and which they are obliged to obey. It relates to a wide range of subjects, from criminal and civil law (which deal with disputes between individuals) to tax, property and family law. Legal systems differ considerably across the world, reflecting cultural and historical influences.

Law shapes politics, economics and history in many ways and raises complex questions about equality, fairness and justice. Its nature is unique in the sense that it is normative rather than descriptive (as in physics, as in the law of gravity) or predictive, as in social science or economic analysis (as in the laws of supply and demand). The existence of such laws depends on human mental operations which cannot be verified empirically.

The law can be based on religious teachings, on ancient texts, or on modern legislation and precedents. It can also be a combination of all these sources, which is referred to as common law. The formal sources of the law are statutes, legislation and judicial decisions. Other authoritative or persuasive sources of the law include foreign law, principles of morality and equity, professional opinions and scholarly literature.

The law aims to promote peace, maintain the status quo and protect minorities against majorities. It can also serve to regulate social change and provide for the distribution of resources. Some legal systems do better than others at serving these purposes.