What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules created by society that are used to control human behavior and punish those who break them. It is a powerful tool that aids in the cooperation between members of a society and also helps to avoid any potential conflict of interest and resolve them.

The precise definition of law is a matter of debate and there are a number of different theories. Hans Kelsen proposed the ‘pure theory of law’ which states that it is a ‘normative science’ that does not seek to describe what must occur, but instead defines rules that individuals have to abide by. Friedrich Karl von Savigny viewed the development of law as an unconscious and organic process, which is determined by customs and varying among groups of people.

A ‘good’ law is one that ensures that all members of a society are treated fairly and with respect, including the protection of their property and personal freedom. A ‘bad’ law is one that does not fulfil these requirements and therefore can be considered oppressive. Examples of bad laws include tyrannical rulers who create arbitrary laws and force their followers to follow them. In some cases, tyrannical rulers will even torture and kill those they consider to be disloyal or ‘un-lawful’.

Many different areas of life are governed by law and there are numerous branches of law, each with its own specialist area. Contract law regulates agreements to exchange goods, services or money; property law determines a person’s rights and duties toward their tangible properties (i.e. buildings and land) and intangible property (i.e. bank accounts and shares). Family law relates to the rights of married or divorcing couples, their children and their relationship with each other; criminal law deals with crimes against the state, such as murder, robbery and terrorism. Employment law governs the tripartite industrial relations between worker, employer and trade unions; and civil procedure and evidence law concern the rules that courts must follow when dealing with trials and appeals.

The legal system also incorporates religious law, such as Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, which are based on religious precepts. These religious laws are usually supplemented with further human elaboration through interpretation, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent, and are sometimes based on canon law. Religious laws often have a powerful influence on the legal system, which may be seen as inherently moral and ethical. They can also be used as a form of social control, regulating areas of society that are deemed not to be in the public interest. The development of law is complex and has numerous facets. It has been described as an art, a science and a social institution. It acts as a powerful tool of social control, where conflicting pulls of political philosophy, economic interests and ethics struggle for recognition. Roscoe Pound argued that law is a “tool of coercion”.