What is Law?

Law is a set of rules that governs human behavior and determines who has rights and responsibilities, which are enforced by mechanisms backed up by threats of sanctions. Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways. It is a complex matter, with different views of its nature and importance.

The word “law” is found in a variety of languages and cultures, and has a number of definitions. Some of the most common are:

Generally, the term law refers to the rules and policies created and enforced by government institutions. The laws are often based on fundamental principles, including those of justice and fairness. Some laws are inflexible, while others are able to change with the times and reflect changing social values.

Some philosophers have suggested that law is a concept that incorporates morality. John Austin, for example, defined it as “commands backed by the threat of sanction from a sovereign to men as his political subjects, which they have a habit of obeying”. The utilitarian theory of law was developed by Jeremy Bentham, who claimed that the purpose of law is to promote social well-being through promoting cooperation. Other philosophers, such as Hans Kelsen, have proposed a more pure theory of law. This theory asserts that law is a normative science, defining certain rules to abide by.

The law can be written and enacted by legislatures, resulting in statutes; by the executive, resulting in decrees and regulations; or through the judicial system, resulting in court decisions. The latter is the most commonly used form of law in the world, covering about 60% of it. In common law systems, judges’ decisions are binding on other courts and bind future adjudicators to reach similar conclusions. This is known as stare decisis, and it provides an important element of consistency in jurisprudence, although it may also be restrictive to innovation.

Other types of laws include those that are explicitly based on religious precepts, such as the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, and Christian canon law in some church communities. These laws typically are unchangeable, and the religion itself serves as an inspiration for further elaboration of law through interpreting scripture, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent.

A key component of the law is whether it is understandable by all citizens, regardless of background or social class. Other critical components are whether core human and procedural rights are enforceable, and whether the transition of power is subject to checks and balances. Modern military, policing and bureaucratic powers pose new challenges to accountability that writers such as Montesquieu and Locke could not have foreseen. A good measure of the quality of a country’s law is its ability to meet these challenges. The law is an essential component of any democratic society.

Theme: Overlay by Kaira Extra Text
Cape Town, South Africa