The Basics of Law


Law is a system of rules that governs a society and may be enforced by a group or by a state. It can also refer to the body of laws that covers a particular subject area, such as commercial law or property law. The discipline of law encompasses the study of law and legal process, as well as the legal profession, which consists of lawyers and jurists. Law is important because it sets standards for conduct and protects people from unfair treatment or harm. A nation with strong laws is usually able to maintain peace, protect minorities and allow for orderly social change. The laws of a country often reflect its culture and history, and may include religious or moral beliefs.

In most countries, a legal framework is set by the constitution and further laws are made to deal with specific issues of concern. These laws are enacted by legislators in a parliament or congress, elected by the people of a country. The legal system may include courts that hear cases involving crimes, civil rights or other matters of controversy and a legislative branch to create statutes that outline broad policy areas. In some countries, a supreme court has the power to remove legislation that does not comply with constitutional guidelines.

Many different theories have been developed to explain the nature of law and its relationship to morality. John Austin’s utilitarian philosophy of law defined it as “commands, backed by the threat of sanctions, from a sovereign to which people have a habit of obedience”. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of natural law was based on morality and the idea that there are unchanging principles of justice. Max Weber’s ideas about the growth of bureaucratic powers influenced modern thinking on the extension of the power of the state over daily life.

The principles that govern the law vary with culture and religion, but are generally influenced by the judicial decisions of a society over time. Throughout history, legal maxims, which are simple statements of principle, have been used to judge cases and are referred to as common law. These maxims, often stated in Latin until the 19th century, have included such phrases as: “a man cannot be judge in his own cause,” “rights are reciprocal to obligations” and “a thing is not what it appears.”

A legal system can consist of a single national or regional law, or may be a mix of national and regional law. A national law can be based on either a common or civil law system, with a constitution for the overall framework and laws to guide the judiciary in interpreting it. Some countries, such as Israel, have no written constitution and use a common law system, while others, like the United States, have a civil law system derived from judicial decisions in individual cases.

Legal systems differ from one country to another, but they share a few features: the role of the legislature in creating and amending legislation, the role of the judiciary in resolving disputes and determining guilt or innocence in criminal trials, a separation between executive and judicial branches of government, and a reliance on precedent in court decision making. The law of a country also may be influenced by international law.