What Is Law?
Law is the system of rules that a community or nation recognizes as regulating the behavior of its members. Its precise definition is a subject of much debate, and it has been described as both a science and an art. Among the most important functions of Law is the maintenance of order and peace in society, but this requires that those in positions of authority be willing to use their power to punish those who break the law. Law also serves to define social boundaries and protect the interests of its members.
Historically, the concept of Law has developed along with the political landscape in which it operates. The governing bodies that make and enforce laws vary from country to country, and there is often tension between those in the political leadership positions and those who are protected by the law. Rebellion against existing political-legal structures is a recurring theme, as are calls for greater rights for citizens of particular groups.
As law developed, it became increasingly central to the governance of societies. A fundamental principle of the Charter of the United Nations, for example, is that all people are equal before the law. This requires that those in the governing body of a state have enforceable rights, including those who are not citizens, and that the law is publicly promulgated and equally enforced.
The earliest legal documents recognized that laws should be based on objective evidence and not personal or political preferences. The Magna Carta, for example, established the right to due process for all individuals, regardless of their wealth or position in society, by recognizing that they must be given a fair trial before a judge and jury. In the modern world, the idea of law as an impartial, unbiased process continues to guide the operation of legal systems, despite the poor concordance between these ideals and actual judicial practice.
As societies grew more complex, there was a need to create a set of universally accepted rules that could be applied consistently across diverse social situations. As a result, the Roman and medieval civil codes were developed. These laws incorporated custom, case law, and even biblical texts into their frameworks of rule. As a result, these civil codes were less individualized than English common law and more easily applicable by other courts around the world.
Law also involves a high degree of subjective judgment. For example, jurors must decide whether the defendant has committed a crime and, if so, what punishment is appropriate. In addition, a judge must decide what instructions to give to a jury during the course of the trial. This is often a difficult decision, and it can lead to divergent conclusions between different juries.
Those who study Law include jurisprudence scholars, who analyze the rules of the legal system and how they are used, and lawyers, who provide advice on what actions should be taken in a case. Other key personnel include law clerks, who assist judges with research and drafting opinions, and librarians, who meet the informational needs of judges and lawyers.