What is Law?
Law is a system of rules that a society develops to deal with crime, business agreements, and social relationships. It can also refer to a particular branch of law, such as criminal or civil law. The word is also sometimes used to describe the people who work in this system: lawyers, judges, and police officers.
The rule of law is the principle that all persons, organizations and governments are subject to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, and independently adjudicated. The law must be clear and accessible to all. It must promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. And it must ensure the separation of powers, accountability to the law, legal certainty and transparency, participation in decision-making, and avoidance of arbitrariness.
In a democracy, the legislature – the group that makes the laws – is accountable to the people through elections for their decisions. In a republic, the executive and legislative branches are balanced by checks and balances. The judiciary is independent of the other branches and provides a check on power in cases where legislation or the executive is overreaching its constitutional boundaries or otherwise violating the laws.
A key role of the judiciary is to interpret the law based on its history, culture, and social change. Judges must be able to adapt the laws to changing times, and they need enough flexibility in their interpretation to enable them to respond quickly to the problems that arise.
Law can also be understood as a set of moral or ethical principles. Its normative character distinguishes it from descriptive (as in a law of gravity) or causal (as in a law of supply and demand) science, as well as from social science (such as the law of inequality).
There are many different types of legal systems throughout the world. The most common are the common law systems that originated in England and now are used in the United States, which base their decisions on court cases rather than on statutes passed by the legislature. Other common systems are the civil law systems based on Roman or German law that now cover much of Europe and Africa, and the Islamic or canon laws that are practiced in parts of Asia and the Middle East.
Other types of law include administrative, commercial, tort, and military. Tort law, for example, compensates individuals for property damage or injury, such as car accidents or defamation of character. It is the field of law most often dealt with by private citizens in the courts, though it can also be handled by government agencies.
The most important function of the legal system is to maintain a balance between individual and community rights. For example, the governing body of a company may have a right to fire employees for breaching its privacy policies but the employee would have the right to appeal that decision to the court. This balance is what gives law its unique status in societies, despite the fact that the laws of different countries are quite similar to each other.