What Is Law?


A system of rules or guidelines created by a government and enforced through a state, such as a nation or municipality. Laws regulate a wide range of human activity, from the mundane to the complex, and they are often designed to keep humans in line, or at least in a safe place. Laws can be based on religious precepts, the natural environment or a broad cultural heritage, and they are often augmented by additional human elaboration through legal interpretation, case law, jurisprudence, and other processes.

Many people equate laws with power backed by threat, and some think that all governments are ultimately a form of dictatorship. Others, however, believe that in a democratic society where the law is overseen by multiple branches of government (legislative, executive and judicial) and citizens can vote for or against their elected officials, laws cannot be abused.

Regardless of what a person believes, the concept of law is central to a well-functioning society. There are numerous branches of law, and most countries have a combination of them: contract law governs agreements between human beings, tort law protects a person’s rights when their property is damaged or they suffer injury due to the actions of another, criminal law prosecutes violations against a community, and administrative law covers the relationship between a government and its citizens. Other branches of law include family law, which is concerned with marriage and divorce, and transactional law, which examines the exchange of money or goods.

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