What Is Law?

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Law is a rule or set of rules that governs and controls the behaviour of individuals, groups, organizations and societies. It shapes politics, economics and history as well as society itself in a variety of ways.

Laws can serve many purposes, ranging from keeping peace and maintaining the status quo to preserving individual rights, protecting minorities against majorities, promoting social justice, providing orderly social change, and regulating business practices. A legal system may be based on written statutes or judicial decisions, and it can be influenced by a constitution.

The legal system of a country is often a complex, multi-layered and evolving process that includes the laws of parliament (the government), prosecutors, courts, police and bureaucracy. In many systems, decisions by courts are considered “law” on equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process and regulations issued by the executive branch.

A right is a normative relation between two parties, the right-holder and right-object. A right embodies the claim, privilege, power or immunity that a party holds against another.

In Hohfeldian theory, claims and privileges are first-order norms that designate what the relevant parties ought to do or may do; powers and immunities are second-order norms that designate what the parties are able or cannot do.

Some of the Hohfeldian positions are active, determining what right-holders may do or may not do; others are passive, determining what right-objects should do or should not do (claim-right or immunity-right). While some Hohfeldian positions have a clear, defined duty correlating to them (MacCormick 1982), other rights only correlate to duties that vest when certain factual conditions are met.