What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules that a society or government develops to deal with issues such as crime, business agreements, and social relationships. A fundamental aspect of law is its generality; it covers all members of a society or group, and imposes general rules on them to control their behaviour. It is this that distinguishes it from individual whims, which do not usually have legal consequences.

A central function of law is to establish standards for minimally acceptable behaviour in a society, such as by prohibiting certain actions that harm or offend other people (e.g., murder and stealing). Law also functions to maintain some semblance of order in a society, for example by punishing those who break the law with fines or imprisonment.

In addition, the rule of law is a political principle that requires that a nation’s laws be publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and that it respect international human rights norms and standards. The precise definition of the “rule of law” is controversial, but it generally involves measures to ensure supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability of the law and its enforcement, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.

The law is a complex matter. For example, the judicial system is in constant flux, with many arguments about whether judges should use their own sense of what’s right and wrong, or strictly follow court rulings. There are also ongoing debates about whether or not the judging class should be more diverse, and how far they should be removed from politics (e.g., in the case of a jury being sequestered from spectators during their deliberations).