What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules that a government or an organization establishes to govern behavior and to control activity. It lays down minimum standards of fairness, and imposes sanctions for breaking those standards. The law also regulates the exchange of goods and services, defining people’s rights and duties in this area. It regulates contracts, property, and the financial markets, for example. It determines who has the right to marry or divorce, and it deals with the death of a person. It determines the way a country’s courts function, and it sets out how they will be run and regulated.

A legal scholar named John Austin defined law as the aggregate set of laws established by a politically superior power over men as political subjects. This definition has been disputed by some authors, however. Others have taken a more narrow view of the concept. For example, they have argued that only those parts of the constitution or other legal documents that are explicitly stated as law can be considered to be legally binding.

Many different types of law exist. Some are based on religious precepts, such as Jewish Halakha or Islamic Sharia, and Christian canon law. Others are based on a combination of religious and secular sources, such as the Roman Civil Code, and still others have been codified by legislatures and remain in force today, such as the common law system of England and America. Other areas of law have been shaped by social changes and the demands of specific industries, such as banking regulation, and the provision of utilities like energy, gas, and water.