What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate and it has been described as both a science and an art.

The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways, from establishing standards to maintaining order and resolving disputes. It also protects liberties and rights. It is a complex subject, but the principles of law are relatively universal. The law is made and enforced by a combination of legislative power, resulting in statutes, executive decrees or regulations, and the judiciary through case law. The law may also be encoded in a constitution, whether written or tacit, or it may be established by judges through precedent.

A good definition of law should be both descriptive and forward looking. It should provide a description of how the law operates as evidenced by real world examples. A description that is scientific in the classic sense should be able to make predictions about the behavior of bad people and explain why they behave as they do.

In the United States, the law is a complex mixture of federal, state and local laws, as well as common law. The legal system has many parts, such as the chief judge who is responsible for the court’s administration and who also decides cases. The clerk of court works with the chief judge to manage the flow of cases through the courts and to maintain court records.

Generally, the law is separated into two broad categories: civil and criminal. The former deals with disputes between individuals, such as contract disputes or property disputes. The latter is concerned with crimes committed against a state or its agencies or representatives. The law establishes criminal offenses in terms of the act or conduct (the actus reus) and the mental state of the individual at the time of the offense, commonly referred to as mens rea. It is the duty of a prosecutor to prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt in a trial.

The underlying force that drives the law is power, both political and military. It is this power that determines the ability of a nation to create and enforce laws, as well as the nature and strength of those laws. The law is also influenced by aspirations and the beliefs of the people, including ideas about justice and equality. There are constant struggles for legitimacy between the codified community narrative of equal justice for all and the individual stories that each person tells about their experiences.