What Is Law?

Law is the set of rules that a society recognises as regulating the behaviour of its members. Its primary purpose is to control the behaviour of individuals within that society, and it does so by both enforcing those rules and punishing those who fail to comply.

There are many different branches of law, covering a wide range of areas. Air law, for example, regulates the safety and reliability of aircraft and their parts, and is framed by national civil aviation acts (or laws), which are often aligned with the recommendations or mandatory standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation or ICAO. Banking law covers the rules banks must obey, while criminal law deals with the punishment of those who commit crimes. Property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible goods such as land and buildings, as well as intangible assets like shares and bank accounts.

A key question about the nature of law is whether it is a natural phenomenon that emerges from social interaction, or whether it is a creation of human agency. The latter view was advocated by Max Weber, a pioneer of sociology and one of the founders of sociology of law.

The law is enforced by courts, with judges resolving disputes and deciding whether those charged with crimes are guilty or not. In most countries of the world, judicial decisions are legally binding on lower courts, a principle known as stare decisis. The jurisprudence of lower courts is also influential on the legal systems of other countries.

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