Law is a system of social rules, created and enforced by governmental institutions, to control the behavior of people. It has many different definitions, and its precise nature is subject to debate. In the simplest sense, law is a set of guidelines that governs a person’s actions, and, if broken, carries punishments. In the more philosophical sense, it is a means of order. It governs the way a society works, ensuring that people treat each other fairly and with respect, and prevents harmful behaviour.
The legal system contains laws that regulate the activities of government, private individuals and businesses. These laws can be found in a variety of documents, such as constitutions, statutes, regulations, ordinances, and codes of conduct. Some laws are federal, while others are state or provincial. Others are municipal, such as city codes or township laws. There are also international laws such as treaties and customary law. Finally, there are common laws that are derived from case law and other legal sources.
A fundamental concept of law is the rule of law, which states that all persons, including government, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated. This is achieved by establishing a framework of governance that includes the supremacy of the law, equality before the law and accountability to the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and transparency.
Law has a significant impact on the lives of most people, and it is an important part of every society. Laws govern everything from employment relationships and property ownership to civil rights, the right to a fair trial, and the right to privacy. Laws are governed by social and cultural values, as well as a need for stability and predictability.
While the precise role of law is a matter of controversy, it is widely accepted that there are several functions that are essential to any modern state:
Establishing Standards: The law sets minimum standards for acceptable behaviour in society. For example, it defines what behaviours are crimes because society (through its legislative body) has decided that these behaviours cause injury or damage to people or their property. Other examples include requiring a certain level of education before someone can practice law or limiting the amount of capital a bank must hold to reduce the risk of bankruptcy.
Laws also create a framework for conflict resolution. This could be in the form of political debate or policy making, or it could involve the courts as arbiters of disputes between conflicting groups. This function of law is often referred to as “legitimate redress”. In this context, the courts are seen as neutral arbiters who resolve conflicts by providing the machinery for dispute settlement.