What Is Law?
Law is the body of rules that governs a community, and its institutions. It serves a variety of purposes: to maintain order, to resolve disputes and protect the rights and liberties of individuals. It also regulates the activities of government and private actors in society.
Laws are generally established through a legislative process, or through regulations issued by the executive branch. They typically involve specific statutes and more general provisions of constitutional or international law. They can impact public policy in many ways, including how survivors of domestic violence are treated and what kinds of services can be funded.
There are four major types of law: civil, criminal, business and political. Each has different objectives.
The legal system in a country usually reflects the values and culture of that society. The laws of each nation are derived from a set of principles and rules that are developed over time in a particular country, and that are recognized as valid by other nations.
Some legal systems, like those of the United States and England, are based on civil law; others, such as those of Canada and Australia, are based on common law. The main difference is that civil law systems are primarily based on statutes passed through the legislative process, while common law systems are based on decisions of the courts.
In most common law countries, the court’s decision is considered a “law” by its adherents on equal footing with other legislative and regulatory statutes. The principle of stare decisis, or “to stand by a decision,” holds that future courts must follow the same reasoning that guided the judge or barrister who first decided a case.
Critics of these systems argue that they are unresponsive to changing social and economic needs, that the laws are rigid, that they are overly reliant on precedent, and that they are unsuited to enforcing a fair and impartial justice. They also claim that common law systems are more difficult to interpret and apply, because the judges and barristers write only for a single case and do not want to give reasons for their decisions that would guide future cases.
A number of theoretical approaches to the study of law have been developed. Some of the more prominent ones are those that focus on rights.
One of these approaches, called the demand theory of rights, emphasizes that a legal system committed to rights is oriented towards the idea of treating the individual person as the law’s primary unit of concern. It is a theory that is shared by some liberal-democratic political philosophers and jurisprudents, such as Joel Feinberg, and by some natural lawyers.
Another approach, called the normative theory of rights, suggests that legal legitimacy depends on whether a right is grounded in other legal norms. This approach is shared by some legal scholars such as David Skorupski and John Gilbert.
Some scholars have argued that the demand theory of rights is unworkable because it does not account for the fact that all individuals are created equal, and that each individual is entitled to a legal identity. This is because a right is a claim by an individual that he or she can make against a third party or group.