What is Law? chapter 1 eu

National law – EU – Legal system – module 1

The law is a set of rules which have a deep impact on our lives. How people live and conduct themselves from birth to death is influenced by laws. In most societies, laws regulate the way we work, the way we relax and even the personal relationships we form. The law is constantly developing; as our societies become more and more complicated, so does the law. Hence, currently there are several different statutes (laws) that regulate various aspects of our lives. For example, working for a Company is governed by several laws, laws that govern working conditions (e.g. by stipulating minimum standards of health and safety), laws which regulate termination of employment, laws which govern relation of employees (equal treatment of workers’ law). Employment law in this sense concerns work relationships and environments. It provides minimum standards for wages and occupational safety. Criminal law prohibits particular anti-social behaviours such as the consumption of alcohol and offences against persons and property. Family law regulates issues of property and domestic matters.

All laws are rules, but not all rules are law1. A law is a rule that is enforceable through the courts. A law is a rule that has been stipulated by a legislative authority such as a parliament, and which is for the most part binding on every person within a jurisdiction. Laws regulate the relations between the State and its citizens, as well as the relations amongst citizens. Therefore, the law tells you:

  • What you must do (your duties)
  • What you are allowed to do (your rights)
  • What you must not do (your duties)

However, there are several rules that tell us what to do, e.g. rules of social conduct tell us we must be polite to our neighbours. The difference between laws and rules of social conduct is that the latter are merely society-imposed norms that have no consequences should one chose not to follow them other than, potentially, the marginalization of the person that does not comply with what a community considers appropriate behaviour. A rule in a game or a sport is unlikely to be a law. Similarly, social norms such as avoiding talking with one’s mouth full, or speaking unfavourably of the dead, are unlikely to be laws as they are not enforceable in the courts. Non-legally binding rules are merely reflections of what a given society sees as acceptable, normal and appropriate behaviour.


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