What Is Law?
Law is the system of rules that a society develops in order to deal with such issues as crime, business agreements and social relationships. It is usually enforced through a controlling authority. The term law can also be used to refer to the people who work in this field, for example lawyers and judges.
In legal systems, law is both a system of enforceable rules and a set of principles that guide the interpretation and application of those rules. In some societies, laws are written down in books and published, while in others they are largely oral and unwritten. In any case, law is often influenced by religious precepts and concepts of natural justice.
The purpose of law is to regulate behavior, maintain order and protect individual rights and freedoms. It cannot, however, mandate behaviours that are impossible in the physical world or force individuals to do things beyond their abilities. In addition, there are limits on how much power the state can exert over individuals: a modern military and policing force that extends far into daily life poses special problems for accountability that earlier writers like Locke or Montesquieu could not have imagined.
A basic concept of law is that a person must obey the governing rules if he or she wishes to avoid punishment. This notion underlies the law of contracts, which imposes obligations on parties to do what is required of them and to refrain from doing what is prohibited by the rules. It also underlies the law of property, which establishes a person’s right to own and control tangible property, such as land or cars.
Another basic concept is that a law must be permanent as to time and uniform in its application: it should apply equally to all persons in the same circumstances. It is illegal to show favoritism in judgment, and the Bible teaches that “there is no respect of persons.”
Some governments, for example the dictatorial government of Zimbabwe, do not always follow these fundamental principles, and therefore some laws are considered to be unjust or oppressive. In contrast, some nations, such as the United States, follow these principles in principle.
A further aspect of law is that it must be clear and logically consistent: a judge must have a reasoned basis for his or her decision, which must also be understandable to the public. Judges must take account of previous cases when deciding on new cases, and this is known as binding precedent or stare decisis. In addition, courts must explain their reasoning in a written decision. These factors help to make a legal system more transparent and trustworthy. In addition, the law must be adaptable: new situations can arise that require changes to the existing laws. This is why many legal systems include a procedure for amending the existing laws. This is called judicial review. It is a key part of any democratic system.