Law is the set of rules that a community or society recognises as regulating the actions of its members, and which it enforces. Its precise nature is a matter of debate, and it may be seen as both an art and a science.
One important feature of law is that it is normative in character: that is, it prescribes behaviour, as opposed to descriptive or causal laws (such as the law of gravity) or social scientific laws (such as the law of supply and demand). It is also unique in that it cannot be empirically verified. As a result, there is no possibility of a legal system that is wholly objective or impartial.
There are several key elements of the study of law, which can be split into three categories: the nature of the legal process; the nature of the legal system; and the subject-matter itself. The first concerns the way in which a society governs itself, and this varies greatly from nation to nation. In some cases there is a separation between political and legal power, as in the case of constitutional law; in others there is a complete merger of these powers. In general, however, the most successful systems tend to be those that are based on the principle of rule of law, whereby the state is bound by laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights standards.
The nature of the legal system relates to the way in which a society organises its courts, tribunals and other institutions for the administration of justice. This includes the organisation of legal education and professional bodies. It is also about the ways in which judges and other court officials are able to interpret laws and make decisions, as well as their responsibilities to protect the rights of all parties involved.
Finally, the subject-matter of law itself is vastly different from nation to nation, though some subjects are common across all jurisdictions. These include the areas of tort law, labour law, criminal law, property law and commercial law, as well as family law and private law.
The most significant aspect of the law is its power to affect people’s lives and to limit their freedoms, and so it is often a source of controversy. For example, there are often disputes about whether it is acceptable to impose punishments on those who break the law, or to use force against them. The question of whether the law should be influenced by’moral’ values or concepts of natural justice is also an issue that can arise. Nevertheless, law is an integral part of our modern societies and is indispensable for maintaining order and protecting liberty. It therefore deserves to be treated seriously.