Meaning and Definition of Law

Meaning of Law

‘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 among 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 surprisingly the search for an agreed definition of ‘Law’ has been an endless journey.

The Oxford Dictionary defines Law as “the system of rules which a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties”. e.g., Driving without a valid license is against the law.

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 ascertainment 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

Basis for describing the meaning of law

The basis of something is its starting point or an important part of it from which it can be further developed. The plural of ‘basis’ is ‘bases’.

Law can be defined on the following bases :

  • 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 which includes all the aspects of Law; for a general understanding, some of the important definitions are as follows:

Definitions of law


It (perfect law) is inherent in the nature of man/woman and can be discovered through reason. It is immutable, universal and capable of growth.


Austin says “Law is the command of Sovereign.” Rules laid down by political superiors to political inferiors. In other words, body of command by a sovereign member or members of an independent society wherein the author of law is supreme.


According to Panton “Law consists of a body of rules which are seen to operate as binding rules in the community by means of which sufficient compliance with the rules may be secured to enable the set of rules to be seen as binding.”

A.V. Dicey

In the words of A. V. Dicey, “Law is the reflection of Public opinion.”


Ihering defines Law as “the form of the guarantee of the conditions of life, of society, assured by State’s power of Constraints.”


According to Salmond, “Law is body of Principles recognized and applied by the State in the Administration of Justice” i.e., principles recognized and applied by the State in the administration of justice.


Norms of human behavior or pure theory of law which provides that Law is pyramid of norms which has its genesis from on ground norm e.g., Constitution of India.


Law is a matter of unconscious growth within the community and can only be understood in its historical perspective.

Volksgeist is the concept of law propounded by the Savigny. As per Savigny, law is an expression of the will of the people and it doesn’t come from the deliberate legislation and it develops as the consciousness of the nation arises.

Roscoe Pound

“Law is a social control through systematic application of force in a politically organised society” – An instrument to satisfy the maximum wants in a society with the minimum of friction and waste.


Define the term ‘Law’?

‘Law’ is a large body of rules, regulations and principles, based mainly on general principles of justice, equity and fair play and convenience which has been worked out by Governmental bodies to regulate human activities.

Name the five bases on which Law can be generally described?

Law can be generally described on the following five bases :

  1. It has basis in nature, reason, religion or ethics.
  2. By its sources like Custom, Precedent and Legislation.
  3. By its effect on the life of society.
  4. By the method of its formal expression or authoritative application.
  5. By the ends that it seeks to achieve.


Article summary  : ‘Law’ is a large body of Rules and Regulations based mainly on general principles of justice and fair play to regulate human conduct & behavior.

Acknowledgement – This article is adapted from Swayam – NIOS course material.

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