What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules and guidelines enforced by a governing body to govern conduct, maintain order, ensure justice, and protect liberties and rights. It is distinct from both philosophy and social science because it has normative as well as descriptive or causal qualities, in the sense that it says how people ought to behave and what they may require of one another.

Laws can be made by a central government or by a local community. Laws can be either civil or criminal, and they can cover a wide variety of topics. For example, tort law deals with injuries suffered by individuals, such as car accidents or defamation of character. Criminal laws cover offences committed against the state, such as robbery or murder. Laws can also be administrative, covering the provision of public services and utilities, such as water. Regulation can also be applied to industries such as energy, gas and telecommunications.

The precise nature of law is subject to ongoing debate. However, a general distinction can be made between civil law systems in which a central government codifies and consolidates laws, and common law systems in which judge-made precedent is binding. In some countries, Islamic Shari’a law plays a significant role in settling legal matters.

An important aspect of law is how it affects the distribution of power and wealth in a society. Questions arise over whether laws are accessible and understandable to everyone, and whether core human, property, and liberty rights are enshrined in them. The relationship between law and politics is considered in articles on constitution; ideology; political party; and political system.

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