What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules created and enforced by a society to govern its members. A society’s laws are typically backed up by an organized system of courts and a variety of sanctions if they are violated. There are many different types of law, some relating to specific activities such as criminal or civil, while others cover more general aspects of life like contract, property, and taxation. The study of the law can involve a number of fields, including history; philosophy; ethics; and social science. People involved in the field of law can be called legal professionals or lawyers.

A central tenet of most modern legal systems is the concept of rule of law, whereby all citizens and organizations are subject to equal and impartial application of the law. The legal system is usually backed up by a democratic political system and is designed to be free from corruption or other forms of authoritarianism. Law also involves the process of resolving disputes between individuals or between groups. This is usually accomplished through mediation, arbitration, or other means, rather than by direct court litigation.

The most important factor in the formation and maintenance of law is who has the political power to make it, as well as to enforce it. This varies from country to country. For example, if citizens of a community decided they didn’t want to obey traffic laws and began ignoring stop signs and red lights, the streets would quickly become dangerous and chaotic. This illustrates the need for an effective police force and a willingness by all citizens to respect and follow the law.

Most societies develop their laws through a process of legislative assembly, resulting in statutes; executive decrees and regulations; or through the judgments of judges, as in common law jurisdictions. Some religions have a written code of conduct, such as Jewish Halakha and Islamic Shari’ah, which provides a basis for law through interpretation and elaboration by scholars. Other religious legal traditions, such as Christian canon law and Islamic Fiqh, are based on the teachings of their founders but require further human elaboration to create detailed laws for specific situations.

There are a wide variety of law fields, including constitutional law; criminal law; family law; and international law. Some of these fields are specialized, such as aviation law or maritime law; others are broad, such as competition law (which is related to the antitrust laws in the United States). The law can be applied to any aspect of human life, but it is often focused on economic activity and on restrictions of freedom of movement or expression. See censorship; crime and punishment; and police for further information on these topics.