The Importance of Law
Law is the set of rules that a society develops to control crime and business agreements, as well as social relationships. These are enforced by the state through its institutions, mainly courts and police, or by private individuals in contractual arrangements. Law is also the object of study in areas such as legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. Law raises many complex questions concerning equality, fairness and justice.
Laws are not only important for maintaining order, resolving conflicts and protecting liberties, but they can also provide the basis for peaceful social change. In contrast to violent revolutions, democratic movements often seek changes to the existing laws to improve society and promote new forms of freedom.
The laws that govern societies vary widely. The most common form is a written constitution, which codifies and defines the basic principles of a nation’s society. It also provides a framework for government, whether the system is parliamentary, presidential or monarchial. A constitutional republic generally has a strong separation of the executive and legislative branches of the government, with the judiciary acting as an independent arbiter of disputes between citizens.
Even in well-ordered societies, conflict arises. People disagree on what should be done and who should do it, and this is where the law comes in. For example, if two people are fighting over a piece of land, the law can settle the dispute by deciding who owns it and how to protect that ownership.
Almost all countries have some kind of law, and it is often organized differently depending on the culture of the country. The civil law tradition, found in most of the world’s nations, is based on concepts, categories and rules that are roughly derived from Roman or Romano-Germanic legal systems and sometimes supplemented by local custom or culture. In contrast, religious law and jurisprudence is largely rooted in scriptures such as the Jewish Halakha, Islamic Sharia and Christian canon law.
In modern times, laws are usually categorized by the way they regulate different areas of human activity. For example, criminal law regulates activities that threaten the peace and public safety, and civil law deals with disputes between individuals. Business laws, such as commercial law and corporate law, are rooted in the ancient Lex Mercatoria and the medieval Code of Commerce and include commercial contracts, property law, bankruptcy and insolvency law.
Other kinds of laws are concerned with the rights of individuals, such as family law and immigration and nationality law. Other laws are based on scientific principles, such as competition law (also called antitrust or antimonopoly law) and environmental protection law. Still other laws are based on religious precepts, such as the Jewish Halakha, Islamic Fiqh and the Muslim Sharia.