What Is Law?


Law is the body of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate. Some writers have viewed it as a science or as the art of justice. Law covers a wide variety of subjects including agency; air law; bankruptcy; business law; contract; constitutional law; criminal law; family law; estate planning; labor law; maritime law; medical jurisprudence; property law; tax law; and tort law.

For example, Blackstone defined law as the “general rule of society in any case of doubt” and that “judges are the depositories of the law; they are the living oracles, bound by an oath to decide every case according to the law of nature.” He added that judges should not follow previous rulings unless they were “clearly contrary to reason”.

Another principle of law is the rule of law which requires the adherence to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, independently adjudicated and are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. This is a complex concept that includes the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making and legal certainty.

The main functions of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The latter is reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other related laws. Another purpose of the law is to prevent people from hurting themselves or others. To do so, the law defines what is and is not a crime. In addition, the law defines what is acceptable or unacceptable behaviour in society.