Law is a set of rules created by government and designed to ensure that people live together peacefully. If these rules are broken, punishments and sanctions are imposed on those who break them. The study of systems of laws and how they work is a popular career choice for many young people.
Laws can be written, unwritten, or a combination of both. They can be statutes (written laws), executive regulations, or judicial decisions. They can be general or specific and cover many different areas of human activity, including contracts, torts, and property. They can also cover specialized activities, such as driving, or be directed to certain groups of people, such as children and young people.
A number of theories exist regarding the nature and purpose of law. Some theories suggest that law is a system of morality. Others, such as Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian theory, argue that law is simply a system of commands, backed by the threat of sanction, from a sovereign to men as political subjects. Other theories, such as those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, suggest that there are unchanging, natural principles of order and justice that govern all aspects of human life.
The main purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Whether the laws are legislative statutes or judgments of courts, they must be clear and understandable in order to serve these purposes. The quality of the law in a nation depends on how well it serves these purposes. It is necessary to have an understanding of the power and limits of government to be able to make informed decisions about how to use laws to improve the lives of citizens.
One of the most important functions of the law is to protect individuals from actions of other individuals, whether these actions are criminal or civil in nature. The quality of a law in this regard is determined by whether or not it provides for checks and balances on the exercise of power by government officials, and by whether or not those officials are subject to impeachment and removal from office.
The prevailing legal theories about the nature of law are reflected in the structure of the legal system in each country. In common law systems, judicial decisions are acknowledged as “law” on equal footing with legislative statutes and executive regulations. This is the result of the principle of stare decisis, which states that past decisions are binding on future cases. In contrast, in civil law systems, legislative statutes are more detailed and judicial decisions tend to be shorter and less binding on future cases. Several other legal systems exist around the world, including those based on Islamic law and Judaism. The quality of law in these systems is also influenced by their respective cultures and the power structures in which they are established.