What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that a nation recognizes and enforces to regulate the behavior of its people. It helps keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice and provide for orderly social change.

Law encompasses many different areas and topics, including the three core subjects of criminal, civil and administrative law. It also extends into areas such as international and family law, taxation, property, labour, evidence and intellectual property.

A legal right is a claim, privilege, power or immunity that determines what the relevant parties may or must do. It can be active or passive (Lyons 1970; Sumner 1987: 29-31).

In most cases, a legal right is based on a legal norm that exhibits Hohfeldian forms, such as a claim-right or immunity-right. However, not all norms exhibiting these Hohfeldian forms are rights, and some are not.

Examples of such norms include a claim-right against inheritance on the ground of one’s gender, or an immunity from being persecuted by state authorities.

Similarly, an infringement of a legal right is impermissible even if it furthers the overall good or utility.

The stringency of a legal right is the extent to which it is enforceable, and is determined by judicial practice, normative jurisprudence, and political and constitutional theory. It depends on the ingredients of the legal right’s moral justification, background social and political values and commitments, expediency, and institutional considerations. Moreover, it depends on the weight of the legal right, which varies in importance and is related to how well it satisfies certain other purposes.