What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules that a community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members. The law aims to create a just and orderly society, ensures human rights, and protects property, contracts, and other private interests. The legal systems of the world are diverse and each reflects local history and culture. Nevertheless, there are some universal features of the ideal law: it is clear and publicly available; it is stable and predictable; justice is delivered impartially by accessible, ethical, and competent representatives and neutrals; and it is adapted to changing social needs through creative jurisprudence and the development of new rules.

Historically, the legal systems of the world have evolved through a mixture of legislative and judicial processes. The most common legislative method is the codification of laws, which provides stability and predictability. The judiciary, however, has an essential role in adapting the law to changing circumstances and meeting new challenges. In addition to interpreting the law, it is also responsible for the enactment of new laws and resolving disputes that arise from existing laws.

The concept of law is very broad, and the term “law” is used in a variety of ways in the literature and in everyday speech. For example, the law may refer to any set of principles or rules that govern a specific area of activity. In this sense, the law includes both public and private laws, and it may refer to a particular country’s or a region’s law. The term can also be used to refer to a particular type of law, such as criminal or civil law.

Another important aspect of the law is its justification. The justification of a legal norm involves explaining how the norm applies to particular cases and why it is preferable to other norms in those cases. For example, a claim-right to sue might be justified because it is a right that enables a plaintiff to seek compensation for his or her loss. Conversely, an immunity-right might be justified because it prevents a claimant from being persecuted by government authorities.

A final feature of the law is the power to change or create legal positions, relations, and norms. For example, a legislator holds a power to impose laws that bind citizens, and the citizens correlatively have a power to resist those laws; the prosecutors hold a power to prosecute criminal defendants; the law of property gives people power to own, gift, and bequeath property; and agency law empowers persons to act for others on their behalf. Typically, legal powers are active, and the corresponding normative disabilities are passive (Lyons 1970: 111-12). However, some Hohfeldian forms of rights (privilege- and power-rights) are actively exercised while others are passively enjoyed.