What Is Law?

A set of rules decided by a place or authority that people must follow, often with punishments like fines or jail time if they break them. For example, in most places it is against the law to steal things from other people.

A nation has its own laws, which are usually made by people called politicians in a government elected (chosen) by its citizens. These laws make the overall framework of a society, and further laws may be made to cover specific matters of detail. Most nations also have a constitution that sets out the important rights of its citizens.

Legal systems around the world vary greatly. Some countries use common law, which is based on English and other Western sources, while others have legal traditions that are more cultural or religious. The laws of some nations can be oppressive or unfair to minorities and other groups. For instance, an authoritarian regime might keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it might not protect people’s individual rights or promote social justice.

In addition to criminal and constitutional laws, there are many other kinds of law. For example, intellectual property laws protect creations like art and music by giving them copyright protection. Trust laws give people certain rights to the money they put into a business, like a pension fund or an IRA. And medical law covers the rights and responsibilities of patients and doctors. Then there’s tort law, which helps people make claims for compensation when someone hurts them or damages their property.