What is Law?

Law is a system of rules imposed on a society by the authority of the state or other governing body. It governs the behavior of citizens, regulates commerce and ensures a minimum standard of living for all members of society. It also protects people’s rights and provides for justice. There is a range of different laws which govern the world’s diverse communities. Some laws are universal, while others are regional or local in scope. Laws are used to enforce standards and provide a framework for societies, and they shape politics, economics, history and culture in many ways. The precise definition of law is an ongoing debate, but a common theme emerges from the various debates: that laws are socially constructed to meet the needs and aspirations of the society in which they exist.

The word ‘law’ is closely related to the words ‘order’ and ‘fixed tune’, and is generally taken to mean a set of rules that are agreed upon and enforced by a society. However, this is a broad definition and can encompass any type of strong rule that is enforceable. A set of parental house rules could be described as a law, and even an instinctive reaction to danger might be called a law.

There are numerous law books and debates that argue for a wide variety of theories about the nature of laws. Utilitarian theories such as those of John Austin argue that laws are a means of social control and coercion, while others, including Jeremy Bentham, take a more moral view. The concept of natural law has re-entered the debate in recent times, and it has been proposed that law reflects an innate order which must be followed for human beings to function in society.

The practice of law covers the professions which advise people about the law, represent them in court and give decisions and punishments. It is an increasingly popular career choice, and it has grown into a huge industry, with thousands of lawyers and legal experts working in the UK alone. Modern lawyers achieve a distinct professional identity by passing specified legal procedures and undergoing a rigorous academic training, which usually includes an undergraduate degree (typically a Bachelor of Laws or a Bachelor of Civil Law), a master’s degree in law or a bar professional training course.

The law consists of a range of legislative statutes, executive regulations and judicial decisions. It covers a wide variety of topics, from criminal law and public international law to commercial law and the law of trusts. It also covers the core subjects of civil and common law, constitutional law, family law and employment law as well as major debates in legal theory. Law is an essential component of a functioning democracy and a global community. Without it, a society cannot survive. It is therefore important to ensure that laws are widely available and understood, that they are applied consistently and impartially, that people face consequences for breaking the law regardless of their wealth or status, and that the transition of power is subject to the rule of law.