What is Law?

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Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour, with penalties in place for those who break them. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate and it has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice.

Law serves four principal functions: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberty and rights. However, the nature of these functions varies from nation to nation because of differences in political landscapes and the extent to which existing laws are effective.

In democratic nations, the law is generally accessible and transparent. Accountable governments and institutions that are free from corruption and which uphold core human, procedural and property rights are essential to a healthy democracy and political economy. In most countries, a national or federal government makes and enforces the law but individual states retain powers not enumerated in the Constitution and some have their own judicial systems.

The study of law includes the theory and practice of legal professions, civil society and a range of specialisms that focus on specific areas of the law. Labour law, for example, studies the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade unions in relation to workplace issues such as health and safety or a minimum wage. Immigration and citizenship law focuses on the right to live and work in a country other than one’s own, to acquire or lose citizenship and the problems that arise from statelessness. Family law deals with the relationship between parents and children whilst transactional law encompasses commercial and property law. Finally biolaw investigates the intersection of the law with the life sciences.