What is Law?


Law is a set of rules that governs the behaviour of people in a society and is enforced by social or governmental institutions. Its precise definition is contested. It is often described as an art or a science, but has also been defined as a form of morality, a means to regulate societies and to prevent their conflict. Law can be created and enforced by a legislature, resulting in statutes; by executive order, resulting in decrees and regulations; or through judges’ dispensation of justice, resulting in court precedents (common law).

A key characteristic of law is its connection to sanctioning mechanisms, which distinguishes it from other social behavioral norms such as customs and morals, whose sanctions are rarely institutionalized. For some, the legitimacy of law depends on its ability to promote societal change and conceal or resolve socioeconomic inequalities; for others, it is merely an instrument for stabilizing societies in which inequality is inevitable.

The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in a wide variety of ways. Its central functions include establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Max Weber reshaped thinking on the role of law in modern society, arguing that laws can have either a regulating or a directing function, which depends on whether they are created by and enforced by a community’s acceptance of them as binding. This concept is the basis of the idea of the rule of law: a system of laws, institutions, norms and community commitment that delivers four universal principles of accountable governance: good government, just law, effective and open democracy and access to justice.

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