What is Law?


Law is a social institution that regulates behaviour, punishes those who break it and enforces social order. It is the source of much scholarly enquiry in philosophy, history, economic analysis and sociology. It also shapes politics, economics and society in various ways and acts as a mediator between people.

From a methodological standpoint, law is distinctly different from other disciplines. Its normative statements are prescriptive, whereas those of other sciences, such as empirical ones like the law of gravity, descriptively describe what happens or have a causal character. In law, however, this difference is even more pronounced: normative statements are not merely descriptive but they assert a duty for people to behave in certain ways.

The subject matter of law is wide, and it can be broken down into three categories, though the subjects frequently intertwine or overlap. Labour law, for example, concerns the tripartite industrial relationship between employer, worker and trade union and includes such issues as a legal minimum wage. Administrative law involves the regulations of state institutions, such as government agencies and governmental departments. It can be distinguished from criminal law, which deals with the punishment of people who commit crimes such as robbery or murder. Civil law relates to the resolution of lawsuits between citizens. This can be distinguished from the rules of procedure, such as evidence law, which outlines what material is allowed in court cases and which is not. The laws of property, such as land, water and the rights to companies like electricity and gas are examples of commercial law.