What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. The precise definition of law is a matter of long-standing debate.

Law can be made by a group legislature or by a single legislator, creating statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or established by judges through precedent, usually in common law jurisdictions. It may also be made by private individuals.

Legal rights are norms that are active or passive and determine what right-holders must do, can do, or cannot do (Lyons 1970; Sumner 1987). Claims, privileges, powers, immunities, and other first-order norms preclude some actions, while second-order norms determine what action right-holders can take or may not take (Neil 1984: 16-27).

Often there is a strong moral component to legal rights. In particular, a person’s rights are rooted in the idea that people should be treated as law’s primary unit of concern (Hart 1982: 86).

The concept of legal rights is a foundation for many theories about the meaning of law. These theories include normative, deontological, and pragmatist theories of law.

For a legal system to be committed to rights, it must be oriented towards treating the individual as law’s primary unit of concern. It must be based on principles of equality, transparency, fairness, accountability and separation of powers. It must also be based on the rule of law, which is the principle that all people, institutions, and entities are accountable to laws that are public, widely known and enforced.