What is Law?

Law is a set of rules enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. Its precise definition is a subject of longstanding debate. Some scholars see it as a science, while others describe it as an art of justice.

Those who study law use it to analyse the way that society functions in its many facets. Contract law covers agreements to exchange things of value; criminal law deals with a crime committed against the state or its citizens; family law outlines people’s rights and obligations toward their spouse, children and other relatives; and tort law examines harm caused by defective products, false advertising and other negligence.

Other areas of law include aviation law, constitutional law, employment law, immigration law and maritime law. Financial regulation sets minimum standards for banks and other companies that deal with money or commodities. Labour law covers the tripartite relationship between employee, employer and trade union; it also includes regulations that protect a person’s right to strike.

The law governs people’s relationships with each other and the environment; it reflects their ideas about morality, but also their values, interests and prejudices. It has evolved over the centuries as people’s ideas change. For example, Bentham’s utilitarian ideas shaped thinking about the extension of power, and Max Weber reshaped thinking about the role of the modern bureaucracy. The law is a powerful force that affects the lives of all, and its application can be as revealing of social inequality as are differences between the speeds of sound and light.

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