What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules created by the state that form a framework to ensure a peaceful society. If these laws are broken, sanctions can be imposed. Laws can be interpreted and construed in many different ways and there is a large amount of debate surrounding what exactly the law is.

For example, a person who breaks the law may be subject to fines or imprisonment. Some people view this as a violation of their personal liberty, others view it as an essential part of a social order that protects the rights of all members of society.

A central question about law is who has the authority to make and enforce it. This is a political issue and varies from nation to nation. In most countries the power to create and enforce the laws rests with a sovereign government, or a group of individuals who command military and political power. In some places this is a single individual (either a monarch or dictator), in other cases, it is the country’s parliament.

Various theories about the nature of law have been advanced by philosophers and legal practitioners. Some, like Jeremy Bentham, have advocated a utilitarian interpretation of law – i.e. that it is a system of commands, backed by threats of sanctions from a sovereign, to which people have a habit of obedience. Others, such as Jean Jacques Rousseau have argued that the law is an expression of innate moral principles.

Most countries have several different legal systems in place which reflect the cultural and religious heritage of those nations. For instance, in the western world, there is common law, statutory or constitutional law and administrative law. Each of these legal systems has its own distinct characteristics, but they all aim to serve similar purposes – namely ensuring that a society functions smoothly, and that the rights of each citizen are protected.

The creation of laws, and their interpretation, is a complex process and requires a high level of education, training and competence. Most people who work in law are lawyers or judges, and both are required to have a degree from a university or other educational institution. Lawyers must also pass a qualifying examination and be authorised to practice by a governing body or bar association. Judges are judicial officers, and must be appointed by a superior court or other governing body.

The law has many important functions, including establishing standards, protecting human rights, providing for the administration of justice and regulating business. However, the existence of the law does not guarantee a peaceful or just society; it depends on the stability and legitimacy of the government that makes and enforces the laws. In an unstable or authoritarian regime, the law can become a tool for oppression of minorities or political opponents. This has been the experience of many countries, and is one of the reasons that revolutions against autocratic governments are so frequent. This is also why many citizens have a desire for democracy and the rule of law.