What is Law?

Law is a system of rules that regulates people’s behaviour in society and is enforced by a controlling authority. It is used for a range of purposes, including setting standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The law shapes politics, economics and history in many ways, as well as mediating relations between different groups of people.

Governments create laws and decide how they are enforced. In democracies, the people in a country elect representatives to a legislature (like the House of Parliament or Congress in the USA, the Bundestag in Germany or the Duma in Russia). Lawmakers write and vote on bills that become legislation. Lawyers, also known as attorneys or solicitors in the United States, and barristers in the UK, study and argue laws before courts and other official bodies.

Throughout history, many cultures have made their own ideas about laws based on customs and religious books like the Bible or Koran. This makes it hard to agree on a precise law definition. However, Hans Kelsen created a ‘pure theory of law’ which argues that law does not describe what must occur but defines rules that people should abide by.

Some countries, such as the United States, use a common law system where judges make decisions on the basis of previous cases. In contrast, countries such as Japan have a civil law system where judges are bound by written codes of rules when making their decisions. Other laws set out standards that businesses must meet, such as health and safety regulations or tax law. Financial regulation sets minimum standards for banks and rules about best practice for investment. Other areas of law include copyright, patents, trademark and trust law.

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