An Introduction to Law


Law provides a framework and rules to help settle disputes between individuals. It covers areas such as contract; property; criminal, civil and administrative justice; labour law; judicial review and legal ethics. It is a special discipline with a number of unique features. It is of a normative and prescriptive nature, whereas empirical science (such as the laws of gravity) or social science have descriptive or causal characters. It is also unique in that it deals with the future acts of humans, and not what has happened to them, which is why it differs from other disciplines, such as history or economics.

The laws of a country are set by the parliament and judiciary of that country. These are based on principles of justice and equity, a system of precedent and the rule of law. Laws are not, however, completely predictable; there is some degree of improvisation in court decision making, where judges may depart from established law and make their own decisions, depending on their interpretation of the facts of the case before them. The underlying philosophy of law is based on the concept of natural justice, which is a code of behaviour sanctioned by conscience, concepts of fairness and the will of a god.

Some scholars see the purpose of law as a tool to secure justice, while others believe it is an end in itself. Jurists have discussed the relationship of law to the humanities, and how its study is inseparable from the development of philosophy, religion and art.

A broad synthesis of these debates is that the purpose of law is to provide a fair and balanced structure for settling disputes between people, and for regulating public and private conduct. In this role it provides a balance between individual liberty and the rights of the community, between equality before the law and protection from tyranny. In addition, the legal system should be transparent and accessible, reflecting the makeup of the society it serves.

There are a wide range of specific fields of law, all of which are covered in other articles. Examples include air law; bankruptcy; carriage of goods; constitutional law; contracts; criminal law; evidence law; and torts. The latter involves compensation for injury to property or person, such as an automobile accident or libel. The latter can be considered to be a civil matter, as opposed to criminal law, which deals with offences against the state or community, such as treason or murder.

The law is a complex subject, covering the activities of courts and judges; lawyers; and government officials, such as the president or governors of states or territories. Other articles cover the general background to law, including legal education and training; legal practice; and the political systems that make and enforce the laws. See also articles on the relationship of law to other subjects, such as the constitution; ideology; and political party and power.