The Nature of Law


Law is a set of rules created by the state that form a framework to ensure a peaceful society. If these rules are broken sanctions can be imposed. The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways. Laws are often based on a constitution, written or tacit, and the rights encoded therein.

Legal systems have different purposes but the main ones are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving conflicts and protecting liberties and rights. Some laws are global and apply to everyone, while others are confined to specific groups, for example, traffic laws that are applicable to all drivers. There are also laws that apply only to the military, government officials or police officers.

Some legal systems are better at achieving these goals than others. For example, a nation with an authoritarian government might keep the peace and maintain the status quo but it may oppress minorities or resist social change. In contrast, a constitutional democracy might achieve these goals more peacefully but it may struggle to accommodate changes that the democratic process might inspire.

A lot of laws are based on culture and traditions, which are influenced by family and community habits. Religion and religious books like the Vedas, Bible or Koran are also major sources of law in many countries. Other sources of law are scientific methods such as deduction, induction and analogy, and the use of precedent or jurisprudence.

In the field of legal philosophy, Max Weber reshaped thinking on the extent to which the state should exercise control over ordinary people’s lives and in this way shape the nature of law. A contemporary debate on this topic centers on the legitimacy of state power and the extent to which it should be extended to areas such as regulating businesses, the military or policing.

The legal system is a complex collection of systems, procedures and institutions that deal with individual cases and larger policy issues. It includes a judicial branch that conducts trials and hearings, a legislative branch that creates statutes or laws, and an administrative branch that enforces the laws. The judicial branch is largely governed by a system called case law, in which judges decide the outcome of each case by reference to previous decisions.

There are several branches of law, including labor law (relationships between workers, employers and trade unions), property law (rules that govern the ownership of land, homes or personal belongings) and tort law (claims for compensation when someone causes injury). Banking law and regulation are legal systems that establish standards for banks and set best practices for financial investment. Other legal fields include medical law and criminal law. A lawyer, jurist or attorney is a professional who studies and argues the rules of law. Some lawyers specialize in transactions, while others represent plaintiffs or defendants in court cases. They are also referred to as solicitors or barristers in some jurisdictions.