What Is the Law?


The law is the system of rules created by the state that ensures a safe society and the protection of its citizens’ rights. It is enforced by the state through a court system and, in some cases, sanctions may be imposed on those who violate the law. It is not an easy task to define the law, and many books containing a range of different ideas about the nature and purpose of the law have been written.

Most legal systems consist of a combination of customary and statutory laws. Customary law is the body of traditions and policies inherited from past generations. Statutory law, in contrast, is a system of formally enacted, binding laws that are promulgated by the government. The laws of a nation may be either civil or criminal in nature, and their application is determined by the political authority that creates them. The law of a country can be affected by religious beliefs, as well as cultural and ethnic heritages.

A common feature of all legal systems is the distinction between real and personal property. Real property, sometimes called real estate, refers to land and anything attached to it; personal property refers to movable objects such as cars, furniture and jewellery. There are many types of law concerning property, including land law (including zoning and planning), intellectual property, commercial law and trusts.

Besides the property law, there are also a number of laws dealing with employment, family and criminal matters. These include labour law, contract law and civil procedure. Criminal law deals with the penalties imposed on those who commit crimes. Family law deals with divorce, adoption and child custody issues. Civil procedure involves the rules courts must follow during trials and appeals. Evidence law involves what materials can be used in a trial.

The study of law is often entwined with philosophy and ethics. The most prominent philosophers of the law include Plato, Aristotle and Kant. Plato’s ideas about justice, in particular, have had an important influence on the development of modern legal systems. Aristotle’s views about fairness and equity remain influential as well.

In most countries, the power to make and enforce law resides in the government or in a group of people who command a powerful military force. Consequently, many governments are repressive, and the law is interpreted through a lens of privilege and oppression. There is a desire in some nations for more democratic rule and greater rights for all, reflected in revolutions and aspirations for the “rule of law.” The World Justice Project defines the “rule of law” as a system that consists of laws, institutions, norms and community commitments that deliver four universal principles: accountability; just, transparent and open government; and accessible and impartial justice.