What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that governs human conduct and activities. Laws may be formal or informal, binding or not, and they are often based on a body of accumulated historical evidence, which judges consider in their decisions. Laws may be written or unwritten, and they may cover any type of activity including a person’s private life and their business dealings.

Laws are intended to help society function effectively by promoting peace and safety by setting out a standard for behaviour. They also ensure that all members of a society are treated fairly. Laws prevent disputes and conflict by providing a means for them to be settled in a court of law. They may deal with issues such as property rights, wrongful death and criminal offences against the state or other citizens.

Idealistic definitions of Law include that it is the set of commands and prohibitions sanctioned by conscience or concepts of natural justice, and that a legal system committed to these ideals treats the individual person as its primary unit of concern. (Hohfeld 1982: 86-89)

Another view of law is that it reflects the social values to which all members of society subscribe and that it provides a means for harmonizing conflicting groups within a society. (Salmond 1984: 77-89)

Normatively, some people have thought of rights as reflective of natural laws, that is moral laws not dependent on enforcement or social convention or recognition; a view that has largely been associated with deontological principles and eschewing considerations of utility and policy.

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