What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules that regulates human behavior and sets the standards for fairness, equity, and justice. It shapes politics, economics, history, and society in many ways. Laws are created and enforced by governmental and social institutions to command what is right and prohibit what is wrong. Laws can also guide individuals in their choice of behaviours. The precise nature of law is a subject of debate. It has been described as a science, an art of justice, and a system of morality.

Generally, laws are permanent as to time, uniform as to person and place, and universally applicable. They can also be based on moral, ethical, or religious principles. For example, the Bible tells us that “Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift” (Deuteronomy 16:18).

A legal system can be based on common law or civil law. In a common law system, decisions of judges or barristers are recognised as law on equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process. This is known as the doctrine of precedent, or stare decisis. In contrast, a civil law system, found in countries that were once colonized by continental European nations, tends to place more emphasis on the categories and rules of civil code. These are usually supplemented by customary or religious law. Civil law systems are found on all continents except Africa.