Law is a system of rules and principles governing human behaviour. The precise nature of the laws varies according to different philosophical traditions and social contexts. For example, the law may be defined as a set of principles commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong or as a system of justice that seeks to balance the competing interests of those involved in a case. The precise nature of the law may also vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but most legal systems share a few key characteristics. These include:
The law is a system of rules governing human conduct and provides a framework for social order. It establishes rights and duties, defines relationships, regulates the economy and society, imposes penalties, protects individuals and groups, ensures public safety, promotes health and welfare, and is generally seen as the cornerstone of a democratic society.
A common definition of the law includes the principles of supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, and legal certainty. A common understanding of the law also includes the concepts of morality, rationality and justice.
It is the most important tool for regulating the behavior of human beings and the development of civilizations. Laws govern every aspect of people’s lives including business transactions, the operation of government, public education, criminal activity, religion and family life. For this reason, the study of law is an interdisciplinary discipline, involving philosophy, economics, politics, history and social science.
Legal systems generally have a legislative branch that codifies and consolidates the laws of a country, and a judiciary branch that interprets the law and settles cases. Some countries, such as the United States, have a dual legal system, with a civil law system that has a central legislature and a common law system that relies on judge-made precedent.
Some countries have a religion-based legal system, such as Islamic Shari’a law. Others have a secular system, such as the laws of the United Kingdom. Most modern legal systems, however, rely on a combination of legislative and judiciary branches.
The role of the law in a democratic society has been shaped by various theories of democracy, including natural and constitutional rights, liberty, and social justice. It is often a topic of debate, especially in the political arena, whether laws should be subject to democratic control. There is a growing concern that the law, especially the justice system, is becoming a bureaucracy with no connection to the community and no real sense of accountability. These concerns have a direct impact on the effectiveness of the law as an instrument for democracy and social change. The articles on this page provide a deeper discussion of the issues surrounding the nature and purpose of the law.