A set of rules governing human conduct, as prescribed or recognized by a society and enforced through its political institutions. Law may be written, as in statutes or constitutional charters, or unwritten, as in the customary practices of a culture or the outcome of judicial decisions. A community’s adherence to its laws creates the conditions for order and justice. The branch of knowledge that studies such rules is called jurisprudence.
Prescribed, recognized and enforced by the governmental power of an organized society to regulate its members’ behavior, laws are expressed in the form of commandments, orders and prohibitions. Laws may also be enacted to impose rewards and punishments on citizens. Laws govern the activities of individuals and communities and help to harmonize conflicting interests by imposing certain standards of behaviour on citizens.
Establishing Standard behaviour: The enactment of law is designed to protect people from acts that harm other people and/or their property. Some of these acts are crimes such as murder or theft and are punished accordingly by the courts. The law also sets minimum acceptable levels of behaviour such as driving safely or wearing seatbelts.
Resolving Conflicts: It is impossible to have a society with everyone sharing the same views, needs and values, so conflicts are inevitable. The law provides a formal mechanism for resolving conflict by providing a system of dispute resolution, the court process.
Law and Morality
Some philosophers have viewed the law as an expression of social morality. Others have viewed the law as a means of ensuring justice, which can be distributive or corrective in nature.
Legal systems vary greatly, with some jurisdictions having stricter laws than others. A basic principle is the concept of stare decisis, which states that judges and courts must follow previous rulings based on a given set of facts. Other important principles include a separation of powers between legislative, executive and judicial bodies and clear expression of rights and duties. Legal professionals are typically required to have a law degree and must be licensed to practice in their chosen field. Often, they must pass a bar exam and complete a professional training course before being admitted to the profession. A law degree can be a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Civil Law or a Juris Doctor. Lawyers must also obey the ethics of their profession and are usually regulated by a professional body. The law is a complex and ever-changing subject. New rules and regulations are constantly being created to address changing social, environmental and economic factors. These changes are reflected in legislation, case law and the development of academic doctrine. However, many of these changes are rooted in the social dynamics of the world around us and cannot be entirely understood from a scientific point of view. It is therefore important to be aware of a variety of perspectives on the law in order to understand its complexity and value. A broader understanding of the law can assist in improving public policy and the way it is implemented.