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What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It is the source of many scholarly fields of inquiry including legal history, philosophy, sociology and economic analysis. In addition, it raises a number of complex issues about justice and equality.

Some scholars use the term to mean the total body of legal precepts that exist in a society or group of societies organized into a political state. Others, such as Hans Kelsan, see it as the hierarchy of norms, each of which derives its validity from a higher norm, known as the grundnorm. Then, there is the highest norm of all, known as the utmost good. Others see the law as all official control over a society, which could include military force, political and social controls, and even economic sanctions.

Most scholars agree that the law serves several functions. These include establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting people’s rights and liberties. Laws establish the rules that people must follow, while criminal laws punish those who break those laws. Civil law covers disagreements between individuals, such as tort laws that compensate people for injuries caused by automobile accidents or defamation of character. Laws also protect individuals’ property, as in the case of land ownership and the legal rights to tangible possessions like cars and houses.

In the biblical sense, the law shows sinners their need for Christ (Romans 3:20 ; 5:13). It warns them of God’s wrath and demonstrates the need for forgiveness and redemption (Romans 6:23 ; Ephesians 2:5 ). It also makes clear that God’s commandments are binding on all people.

The law can vary greatly from country to country, as some have more enforceable laws than others. For example, a man may be allowed to have four wives in one country but not another. In general, countries with better-developed law and a more robust constitutional guarantee of due process tend to have more laws and more effective protections for their citizens.

While laws are created and enforced by a variety of organizations, the most common is a court system. This includes a trial by jury in criminal cases and a panel of judges in civil courts. In some cases, a court will hear a case “en banc,” meaning that all of its judges will be sitting together to decide the matter rather than a group of three or more judges.

The most well-known branches of law are contract law, which regulates agreements to exchange goods and services; property law, which defines people’s rights to and duties toward their tangible property (including real estate and personal possessions); and constitutional law, which ensures that a person will receive a fair and impartial trial and will not be subjected to excessive force or cruel punishments. Other areas of law are international treaties, administrative law, tax law and commercial laws. In some countries, there are specialized branches of law such as family and labor law.