The Four Basic Functions of Law
Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior and ensure that individuals adhere to the will of society. These laws can be made by a legislature, resulting in statutes, or by the executive through decrees and regulations, or they may be established by judges through precedent, known as common law jurisdictions. Laws can also be negotiated and agreed upon by private individuals in contracts or arbitration agreements. Law is a foundation for social stability and economic growth, as businesses can operate with confidence that their rights will be protected. A legal system can also mitigate conflicts and disputes by providing a means to settle them peacefully, so everyone can live in peace.
There are many purposes of the law, but four of them are fundamental. They are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights. The first function, establishing standards, is necessary because without laws, there is no guidance for how to behave or what to do. Laws provide a clear, publicized and stable set of guidelines that governs behavior in both the private and public sectors. Laws help ensure that all citizens are treated fairly and have access to justice when they feel they have been wronged by others or the government.
The second function, maintaining order, is important because it helps to promote stability and prosperity by reducing conflict. This includes mitigating tensions between people and between governments and between nations, as well as protecting property and ensuring that contracts are honored. A legal system also prevents businesses from operating illegally, which can lead to job loss, economic collapse and other hardships for a country.
Conflicts do arise, though, and this is where the third function of the law comes in. Laws can be used to help people resolve their differences peacefully, for example by establishing property ownership in cases where two people claim the same piece of land. It can also be used to punish those who break the rules by imposing fines or prison sentences.
The final function of the law is to ensure justice. This can be distributed or corrective, with distributive justice aiming to ensure a fair distribution of benefits and burdens between the members of a society, while corrective justice aims to punish those who act unfairly or hurt others. Justice can also change over time as societies progress, so the laws have to adapt to these changes. If a body of laws remains unchanged, it may be perceived as unfair or irrelevant.