What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules that a society or government creates and enforces to regulate behavior, establish standards, maintain order and resolve disputes. It also provides the foundation for a system of justice and is the source of a great deal of scholarly inquiry, particularly in history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.

A law can be based on natural or divine precepts, and human elaboration is often needed to produce a comprehensive and coherent legal system. Religious law is often based on scripture and may use Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) or Sharia (the path to follow). The Jewish Halakha and Christian canon are examples of this type of law.

The underlying principle behind the law is that people should be held accountable for their actions regardless of their social status or wealth. However, this ideal is difficult to achieve in practice, which is why revolutions against existing political-legal authority are a recurring feature of history.

The three main categories of law are criminal, civil and administrative, but a range of sub-topics extends beyond them. Labour law, for example, covers the tripartite relationship between worker, employer and trade union, including rights such as a minimum wage or health and safety regulations. Evidence law concerns which materials can be used in court, while criminal procedure and civil litigation laws cover how cases should be conducted. This article was originally published in September 2015. It has been updated for accuracy and completeness.

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