The Role of Law in Modern Society
Law is a body of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to ensure that all members of a society adhere to certain standards. These standards can be enacted by a collective legislature resulting in statutes, decreed by an executive authority resulting in regulations or established through judicial precedent called case law in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can also create legal binding contracts and arbitration agreements. Laws may be based on religious precepts such as Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, Christian canon law or other religions as well as the principles of natural justice.
The principal functions of law are to keep the peace, maintain social order and protect people’s rights. The actual functioning of laws is influenced by the political structure of nation-states (as countries are referred to in international law) and the balance of power between the military, police, bureaucracy and judiciary. Attempts to overthrow or subvert existing government-political structures are a regular feature of human history. In unstable or authoritarian states, law can fail to fulfil any of these important purposes.
The varying needs of societies are reflected in many branches of law. Contract law regulates contracts and other obligations between private parties, such as airline ticket contracts and the terms and conditions of mortgages, rentals and car sales. Tort law covers the entire spectrum of wrongs that people inflict on each other, partially overlapping with conduct punishable by criminal law. Criminal law punishes actions that threaten social order, such as murder, theft and defamation of character.
Tax law entails the rules concerning value added tax, corporate and income tax as well as regulating companies, trusts and investment banking. Space law is the body of regulations governing activities in Earth orbit and outer space, including the use of satellites. Medical jurisprudence, family law and intellectual property are other examples of branch laws.
In modern societies, a number of new issues are arising as a result of the expanding role of law, some of which challenge older notions of the extension of state powers and raise complex questions about equality, fairness and justice. For example, the development of the Internet has raised concerns over privacy issues which are a new area for law.
The practice of law is a fascinating area of study, offering an insight into the way human societies work. It is a subject that lends itself to a variety of academic fields such as history, philosophy, sociology and economic analysis. Moreover, law is a central topic of debates about public policy and the general direction of society. In the end, however, law is a tool for societal change and progress, and a critical component of a civilised society. Without the rule of law, human life would be chaotic and insecure.