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Law : Definition

Law’ signifies a rule applied indiscriminately to all actions. It is a notional pattern of conduct to which actions do or ought to conform. ‘Law’ is a large body of rules and regulations, based mainly on general principles of justice, fair play and convenience and which have been worked out by governmental bodies to regulate human activities. In broader sense, ‘Law’ denotes the whole process by which organized society, through government bodies and personnel (Law-makers, Courts, Tribunals, Law Enforcement Agencies and Executive, Penal and corrective Institutions etc.) attempt to apply rules and regulations to establish and maintain peaceful and orderly relations amongst the people in the society.

The idea of ‘Law’ as guide to human conduct is as old as the existence of the civilized society. The relevance of law to human behavior has become so intimate today that every person has his or her own conception about its nature which is influenced, of course, by his/her own perspective. Not suprisingly the search for an agreed definition of ‘Law’ has been an endless journey.

There have been conflicting and divergent views of jurists regarding the nature, concept, basis and functions of Law. ‘Law’ has been regarded as a divinely ordained rule or a tradition of the old customs or recorded wisdom of the wise men or philosophically discovered system of principles which expresses the nature of things or as a body of ascertainments and declaration of an eternal and immutable moral code, or as a body of agreements of men/women in politically organized society, or as a reflection of divine reason or as a body of commands of the sovereign, or as a body of rules discovered by human experience, or a body of rules developed through juristic writings and judicial decisions or as a body of rules imposed on men/women in society by the dominant class, or as a body of rules in terms of economic and social goals of the individuals.

Therefore, Law can be defined firstly - by its basis in nature, reason, religion or ethics, secondly - by its sources like customs, precedent and legislation, thirdly – by its effect on the life of the society, fourthly – by the method of its formal expression or authoritative application, fifthly – by the ends that it seeks to achieve.

Although, there is no general definition of Law which includes all the aspects of Law yet for a general understanding, some of the important definitions are as follows:

Sir John Salmond

Law is the body of principles recognised and applied by the State in the administration of justice.

John Austin

Law is a command issued from a Sovereign power to an inferior and enforced by coercion.

American Heritage Dictionary

  1. A rule of conduct or procedure established by custom, agreement, or authority.
    1. The body of rules and principles governing the affairs of a community and enforced by a political authority; a legal system: international law.
    2. The condition of social order and justice created by adherence to such a system: a breakdown of law and civilized behavior.
  2. A set of rules or principles dealing with a specific area of a legal system: tax law; criminal law.
  3. A piece of enacted legislation.
    1. The system of judicial administration giving effect to the laws of a community: All citizens are equal before the law.
    2. Legal action or proceedings; litigation: submit a dispute to law.
    3. An impromptu or extralegal system of justice substituted for established judicial procedure: frontier law.
    1. An agency or agent responsible for enforcing the law. Often used with the: “The law . . . stormed out of the woods as the vessel was being relieved of her cargo” (Sid Moody).
    2. Informal. A police officer. Often used with the.
    1. The science and study of law; jurisprudence.
    2. Knowledge of law.
    3. The profession of an attorney.

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

Discipline and profession concerned with the customs, practices, and rules of conduct that are recognized as binding by the community.

Enforcement of the body of rules is through a controlling authority, such as a group of elders, a regent, a court, or a judiciary. Comparative law is the study of the differences, similarities, and interrelationships of different systems of law. Important areas in the study and practice of law include administrative law, antitrust law, business law, constitutional law, criminal law, environmental law, family law, health law, immigration law, intellectual property law, international law, labour law, maritime law, procedural law, property law, public interest law, tax law, trusts and estates, and torts. See also Anglo-Saxon law; canon law; civil law; common law; equity; Germanic law; Indian law; Islamic law (Sharīah); Israeli law; Japanese law; jurisprudence; military law; Roman law; Scottish law; Soviet law.

Concise Oxford English Dictionary

A rule or system of rules recognized by a country or community as regulating the actions of its members and enforced by the imposition of penalties.

  • such rules as a subject of study or as the basis of the legal profession.
  • statute law and the common law.
  • something regarded as having binding force or effect: his word was law.
  • (the law) informal the police.
  • a rule defining correct procedure or behaviour in a sport.
  • a statement of fact, deduced from observation, to the effect that a particular natural or scientific phenomenon always occurs if certain conditions are present.
  • the body of divine commandments as expressed in the Bible or other religious texts.

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