What Is Law?

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Law is a collection of rules established by social or governmental institutions to regulate the behavior of individuals within a particular society. A nation’s laws typically serve a variety of purposes, including maintaining peace, preserving individual rights, protecting minorities against majorities, and promoting social justice. Laws can be enforced through a variety of means, including police, military, and courts. Depending on the nature of the violation, a person found guilty of breaking the law can face a number of punishments, such as fines, prison sentences, and expulsion from a country.

Many scholars have varying opinions about what defines a law. Blackstone considered a law to be “a command of a sovereign, containing a common rule of life for his subjects and obliging them to obedience.” Hans Kelsen defined the concept as the hierarchy of norms; each one derives its validity from the higher ones and at the top there is a highest norm known as grundnorm. John Chipman Gray argued that law means the whole body of legal precepts that exists in an organized political society. Gray’s definition was criticized because it does not include all official control of a political society and does not consider court decisions or opinions as part of the law.

John Salmond argues that the object of law is to ensure justice. Justice may be distributive or corrective and the objective of the law is to achieve these objectives. Salmond further classified the sources of law into formal and persuasive. Formal sources of law are statutes and judicial precedents and persuasive sources include foreign judgments, principles of morality or equity, and professional opinion.