What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules created by a place or group of people meant for the purpose of keeping order, solving disputes and protecting rights and liberties. Its precise definition is the subject of longstanding debate. A common theme, however, is that laws exist to establish standards and enforce behaviour, and that when a law is violated sanctions can be imposed. Laws may be made by legislatures, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or through judicial interpretation of case precedent, usually in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals may also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements, which act as alternatives to standard court litigation.

Each country, and even different regions within a country, will have its own particular laws. The main types of laws include criminal, family, property and business. Criminal laws govern crimes and impose punishments. Family laws regulate marriage, divorce and the care of children; property laws set out the rules for buying and selling homes, land and objects; and business law sets out the principles that govern commerce and money.

Most countries have a system of courts that adjudicate disputes and prosecute those who break the laws. Judges resolve cases by interpreting the facts of each individual case from a legal perspective, and decide whether someone is guilty or not. The highest court in a country, often called the Supreme Court or Constitutional Court, has the power to remove laws that are unconstitutional (that go against the fundamental principles of a nation).

The legal profession focuses on helping individuals and businesses navigate the law. It involves advising clients on legal matters, representing them in court or arbitration, and making decisions on their behalf. Lawyers must be able to read and interpret laws, statutes and regulations, and have a good understanding of how they are applied in practice. It is important for lawyers to keep up with changes to legislation, and some even specialise in a specific area of the law, such as environmental, employment or immigration law.

Many areas of law can be very complicated and there are many different types of laws. This article aims to be accessible to those who are not specialists in the field, and will provide information and commentary on a range of issues related to the law. For those interested in a deeper exploration of the topics discussed, links to further reading and references will be provided. Readers are encouraged to comment on the articles, and to contact us with questions or suggestions for future pieces. This article is the result of a collaboration between the Law Society of New South Wales and the Centre for International Governance Innovation. It is published as part of the Emerging Issues in Australian Law series. This series is intended to facilitate discussion about critical issues in Australian law and governance. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society or the Centre.

Theme: Overlay by Kaira Extra Text
Cape Town, South Africa