What Is Law?

Law is an area of study concerned with the rules, customs and practices that govern societies. Its most important functions include establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. A country’s laws provide a framework for social organisation and allow people to understand how their government manages public resources and protects their property. In many countries, law is a complex mixture of common law and statutes passed through parliament and regulations issued by the executive branch. A key feature of a good law is its ability to adapt to changing situations, such as the need for more specialised laws on taxation and financial regulation.

The legal system’s underlying philosophy and theory is also an important aspect of Law. The “rule of law” is a concept first developed by the philosopher Max Weber to describe a society in which laws are obeyed and the extension of state power over the lives of its citizens is limited. The rule of law is based on a set of values and principles such as the separation of powers, judicial independence, checks and balances, and the rule of reason.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, a Europe-wide Law Merchant developed for trade purposes to replace the many splintered local laws that existed. This evolved into new civil codes which influenced national and international law. The Law Merchant and the later civil codes tended to emphasise individual freedom, contract and the ownership of property.

In “common law” systems, the decisions of courts are referred to as laws and are considered on equal footing with statutes adopted through parliament or regulatory actions by the executive branch. This is because of the doctrine of stare decisis, or the principle that the law is settled by a series of court decisions and that the reasoning used in earlier cases will guide future judges. In contrast, in “civil law” systems, legislative statutes are more detailed and judicial decisions shorter.

Law is a broad field that covers everything from immigration and nationality laws to family, divorce and money laws. It includes criminal and civil law, in which disputes between individuals are resolved and the punishment of criminals is imposed. Civil law focuses on the rights and duties of people, such as their right to compensation in an accident or to a fair trial.

Other areas of law include environmental and health, corporate, banking and finance and taxation laws. These laws ensure that companies and governments abide by certain minimum standards, such as safety regulations in the workplace and fair taxation. They also include rules on the use of land, utilities and natural resources such as water. They can also involve regulating markets and private business, such as limiting the advertising of products to reduce consumer confusion. In a highly developed market economy, laws are also designed to prevent fraud and to provide protection for workers’ wages and conditions. This involves rules on the way companies record profits, maintain accurate accounts and disclose these to the authorities.