What is Law?
Law is the system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. The precise definition of law has been a subject of much debate, with scholars and practitioners generally agreeing that it is a set of rules that provide a framework to ensure a peaceful society and that, if broken, sanctions may be imposed. Law shapes politics, economics, history and culture in many ways and is a key factor in the way a country or community functions. Law can be created and enforced by a legislative body, resulting in statutes, or through executive action, resulting in regulations and decrees, or through judge-made precedent in common law jurisdictions. It can also be established by religious institutions, such as Jewish Halakha, Islamic Sharia and Christian canon law.
While the law is generally a binding framework, it can contain elements of flexibility and choice. For instance, what is’reasonable’ for one person in a dispute with another is not necessarily reasonable for another. Furthermore, laws are based on the shape and limitations of the world in which we live, so they cannot mandate behaviours that exceed human capabilities.
The law is a complex and vast area of study with numerous different fields and specialisms within it. However, the law is a key part of every society and there are some areas that are common across all legal systems. These include the rule of law, equality before the law, justice, separation of powers, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural fairness.
A broad and deep field, the law is full of interesting and fascinating concepts and terms. Some of the more common and well-known words, phrases and abbreviations used in the law are:
judicial review – A process by which a lower court can overturn a higher-court decision by arguing that there was insufficient evidence or that the judges had misinterpreted the law.
law clerk – An assistant to a judge who helps with administrative tasks, such as managing caseloads and maintaining court records.
legal aid – An organisation that provides free or subsidised legal services to people who could not afford them otherwise.
precedent – A previous decision made by a court that should be followed in the same case, unless there is a compelling reason or significantly different facts. Decisions by a superior court are usually binding on all lower courts in the jurisdiction.
presiding judge – The chief judge of a court who has overall responsibility for the administration of the court, deciding cases and assigning judges to cases.
The rule of law – A principle of governance that holds that all persons, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated and consistent with international human rights norms and standards.
The rule of law requires that laws be democratically enacted and enforced, are enforceable by an independent judiciary and are accessible to all citizens, regardless of wealth or status. The rule of law also entails adherence to the principles of supremacy of the law, equality before the law, participation in the lawmaking and justice processes, non-discrimination, accountability to the law, separation of powers, legal certainty, avoidance arbitrariness and procedural fairness.