What Is Law?
Law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, and it has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice. The study of law encompasses not only legal history and philosophy but also economic analysis, political science and sociology. It is a subject that raises profound and complex issues concerning equality, fairness and justice.
Law can be distinguished from a code of ethics and a set of moral principles by the fact that it is explicitly acknowledged as binding by some governing authority. A legal system’s rules are generally considered to be “law” when they have been formally adopted and codified through the legislative process or by judicial decisions. In common law systems, decisions by judges are recognized as law on an equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process and with regulations issued by executive branch agencies. This is called the doctrine of precedent or stare decisis.
Civil law is a separate legal system from common law and is the basis of most European countries’ laws today. It deals with relationships between persons and their possessions, and includes property law, criminal law, contract law and labor law. The civil law system is based on a body of rules and regulations that are arranged in codes. This makes it easy for jurists and citizens to access the law and understand its meaning and implications. Civil laws are more flexible and adaptable than common laws. The law merchant, a precursor of modern commercial law, and the Napoleonic and German codes are examples of civil laws.
Some religious faiths have laws that are derived from scripture, including the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, and the Christian canon law. These are mainly concerned with the observance of religious precepts, but can also have some influence on civil law and commercial law through the use of Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent.
Most jurisdictions have a legal profession, whose members are regulated by law. Lawyers must be educated to a high standard, have special qualifications and complete a period of legal training or law school study to qualify for practice. A number of different career paths are open to those who become lawyers, including being a judge, a solicitor or an advocate. The profession of law is increasingly attractive to young people due to its prestige and status as an intellectually challenging and socially responsible occupation. There is ongoing debate about the way that the law should be interpreted and applied, for example whether judges should be politically independent or whether the legal system should be based on universal principles. The question of whether the law should be secular or spiritual is also an important one for some individuals. These debates are all part of the rich tradition that is law.