What is Law?


Law is a set of rules that can be created by social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. These can be made by the state through statutes, decrees and regulations or by courts through precedent.

There are also laws that apply between groups of people, and these are called private law. For example, if you back up your car into someone’s fence, that is a breach of their right to enjoy the same.

If you run away from a shop with unpaid goods, that is a breach of public law (the law in relation to vehicles and buying and selling goods). The person running away from the store can go to court and claim damages for the loss they have suffered.

The word ‘law’ comes from the Latin lege, meaning rule. It can be used in a broad sense to mean any principle governing action or procedure; it is sometimes used to describe a system of laws, jurisprudence and justice that is often organized around a code.

In most cases, a legal system will be based on a legislative system in which the enactment of laws is primarily a matter of legislative power. However, this does not necessarily preclude the use of creative jurisprudence and interpretation to ensure that the rules are relevant to social change and new needs.

Other forms of law include religious law, which is based on a religion’s precepts or principles. These may be embodied in a text or tradition such as the Quran, and are then interpreted by judges and governments, using a range of methods including Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent.

These principles are often codified into a code and enforced by courts, as well as through administrative laws and policies. In many countries, a judicial system is established to ensure that these codes are enforced and applied consistently across the country.

The rule of law is a system of governance in which all individuals and institutions are accountable to a set of universally agreed upon principles that are based on the supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers and participation in the decision-making process. These are complemented by procedural and legal transparency, legal certainty, the avoidance of arbitrariness, the provision of access to justice and the independence of the judiciary.

For the United Nations, the rule of law is defined as a “principle of government” that promotes and protects human rights through adherence to universally accepted norms and standards for a transparent, inclusive, impartial and accountable system of justice. These universal principles are derived from the work of a wide range of experts worldwide and have been developed in accordance with international standards for transparency, legal certainty, equal and impartial access to justice, procedural and legal transparency and the independence of the judiciary.

The principles of the rule of law are a working definition that are developed in accordance with international standards for transparency, equality and impartiality in the adoption, administration, enforcement and adjudication of laws. They are rooted in the fundamental principle that everyone has a right to justice.