Law: Definition and Classification


What is Law?

Law is a set of rules and regulations that are necessary to run human society in an orderly fashion. Often described as a science and art of justice, the law is enforced through established social and governmental institutions across the globe. In most countries, the system of courts acts as the guardian of the law. These courts ensure that the rules and regulations enshrined in the law are being followed by everyone, and the violators are equally punished either through a fine, penalty, or severe punishment. In a nutshell, Law is something that follows you in almost every walk of life, from getting a birth certificate to have a death certificate.

From the legislative perspective

Law refers to a Statute, Act, Rule, Regulation, Order, and Ordinance.

From a judicial perspective

Law refers to a Rule of Court, Decree, Judgment, Injunction, and Order of Court.

In a wider sense, Law refers to all the above terms, inclusive of legal theories and torts.

Meaning of Law

The word Law has been derived from the Latin word ‘legum’ that means ‘the body of rules.’ Different communities of people from different regions of the world call Law by unique terms. Hindus call it ‘dharma,’ Muslims call it ‘Hukum,’ while Romans call it ‘Jus.’

Law and Religion

Law is different for different people

Even if Law refers to a rule or regulation, it has different contexts in various regions of the world. It has gained significance from the culture, customs, beliefs, and opinions of the people living in that region. For example, some countries have abolished capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, while some countries have still retained capital punishments.

Capital Punishment Yes or No

Three aspects of Law

The three aspects of Law are:

  1. Legal Order
  2. Legal Percepts
  3. Official control

Definitions of Law

Several jurists and scholars have tried to define Law. Here, we will limit the definitions to two jurists –

Idealistic Definition

According to Salmond, a legal scholar, public servant, and judge in New Zealand,

Law may be defined as a body of principles, recognized and applied by the State in the administration of justice.”

Positivist Definition

According to H.L.A. Hart, a British legal philosopher,

A system of rules – the primary and secondary rules. The primary rules are duty imposing while the secondary rules are power conferring.”

Nature of Law

Law is dynamic; it keeps on changing as the region and community of people changes, hence there is no fixed definition of Law, no matter how hard the jurists have tried to explain it in a single line.

‘A Law’ or ‘The Law?’

Before we move ahead to the classification of Law, we would like to point out the difference between the terms ‘a Law’ and ‘the Law.’ The sum of all Acts of the legal system in a country is called ‘the Law,’ while an individual Act or Statute is known as ‘a Law.’

Classification of Law

Each jurist has tried to classify Law as per their notion and the system they follow; however, in this section, we will deal only with those categories that are practiced and are vital in modern times.

Civil Law & Special Law

Civil Law is the Law imposed by the State. It is territorial and general. It is different from special Law as the latter can be set in special conditions only such as the Criminal Law.

Civil Law

Procedural or Substantive Law

Substantive law is focused on the goals that an administration wants to achieve. Contract law is an example of Substantive law. Procedural law suggests the remedies and refers to the concrete ways by which the objectives of an administrative system can be achieved. Civil Procedure Code comes under Procedural law.

Public Law & Private Law

Public law defines the relationship between an individual and the State, wherein the latter is an enforcing authority. Constitutional and Administrative law fall under the category of Public law. Private law refers to the relationship between two persons or parties. Property law, Contract law, etc. come under this category.

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International Law

Also called the Law of Nations, it is applicable to States and is a set of rules governing two and more States.

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Customary Law

One of the sources of the law is the customs prevalent in a particular society or community. The law that results from such customs is valid, even if it is not included in the governing Law.

Customary Law

General or Special Law

General law refers to the law existing in the country and applicable throughout the territory. For instance, Contract law is applicable throughout the region of India, whereas Special law refers to the law applicable in a particular area.

Special Law

Cyber Law

It is a law that is mostly applicable to the Internet and relevant technologies. It is a new segment in the legal system, and it safeguards people involved in internet-based transactions and interactions.

Cyber Law


Imperative Law

A rule which is prescribed by an authority and defines a particular action is Imperative Law.

Divine Law

It is the Law of God imposed on all earthly beings.

Physical Law & Scientific Law

Physical laws are not human-made laws and pertain to science and nature, whereas Scientific laws are the laws created by humans.

Natural and Moral Law

Natural Law defines right or wrong acts and denotes natural justice. Moral Laws are based on moral principles.

Antecedent and Remedial Law

Antecedent law is the independent specific enforcement of a particular aspect of Law. For example, in Contract law, you can find the specific performance of the contract, and it is related to Antecedent law. Remedial law suggests the remedy.

Law in Rem and Law in Personam

A person’s enforcement of rights against the world is known as Law in Rem, whereas Law in Personam is the enforcement of rights against an individual or individuals.

Two Categories may Have the Same Law

You must have gone through several categories of Law as given above; however, a particular law or an Act may fall under two or more categories. For instance, the Contract law falls under both Substantive law and General law.

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