What Is Law?


Law is a set of principles that governs people’s behaviour and interactions in society. It shapes politics, history and the economy and acts as a mediator in human relations. While laws may be derived from religious precepts such as Jewish Halakha or Islamic Sharia, the vast majority are developed by humans through elaboration and interpretation.

In common law legal systems, decisions of higher courts are acknowledged as ‘law’ on equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process and regulations issued by executive branch agencies. This is known as the doctrine of stare decisis, Latin for “to stand by decisions” and is one of the fundamentals of this type of system.

There are many areas of law, the most significant being contract law, property law and criminal law. Contract law is about the agreements that people make as they exchange goods or services. Property law is about people’s rights and duties toward tangible assets, including buildings, vehicles and possessions. Criminal law concerns what is and is not permitted, and the punishments that can be imposed for a crime.

Other significant fields include labour law, competition law and evidence law. Labour law addresses the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union, and includes such issues as fair wages, health and safety and the right to strike. Competition law traces its origins back to Roman decrees against price fixing and English restraint of trade legislation, while evidence law concerns which materials are admissible in court for cases to be built upon.