What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior and ensure order. It has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice. It serves many purposes, but the four principal ones are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, but it has been generally agreed that the practice of law encompasses the administration of government, enforcement of civil and criminal sanctions, and protection of personal rights.

Law may be state-enforced through legislative and executive processes, resulting in statutes and regulations, or it may be established by judges through case law (or precedent) in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can also create legal contracts, which are enforceable by the courts.

Other areas of law include administrative, labour and employment, constitutional, family, property, international, crime, consumer, corporate, banking, evidence and bankruptcy. Constitutional law concerns the rights encoded in a nation’s constitution. Family law covers marriage, divorce and the rights of children, both in their own right and as they relate to the parents. Corporate law encompasses the rights and liabilities of companies, and competition law – the antitrust laws derived from Roman decrees against price fixing and English restraint of trade doctrine.

Regulation is a broad area of law, covering such matters as the provision of public services and utilities, such as electricity, water and gas, and the rules governing commercial transactions. It has become especially important since privatisation has swept away management of such utilities from the public sector, which was traditionally the responsibility of government law.

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