Law is a system of rules created by the state which governs human behaviour in society. It forms a framework to ensure a peaceful society, and allows for the punishment of people who break those rules. It also provides a way for governments to regulate businesses and utilities such as water, electricity and gas. This is important because it helps to prevent abuses of power by those who have the most money. Law is not the only thing that guides human behaviour though, morality and religion both act in a similar way and are often used to help shape individual decision making.
The nature of law is a controversial topic. It is debated as to whether or not there are universal features that all laws must have, such as the fact that they are enforceable by courts. There is also an interest in the relationship between law and other normative domains, such as morality, religion or social conventions. It is argued that the way that these other normative domains guide behaviour, like the ‘rule of thumb’ or ‘etiquette’, differ from that of law and therefore influence our interpretation of it.
This debate has implications for the development of legal systems, including how law is written and how it is enforced. It also influences political ideas, such as the idea that a government should be legitimate and accountable to its citizens. The idea that a government should not exceed its powers is an important part of the idea of ‘the rule of law’, which is a feature of many legal systems.
Some legal systems, such as the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, are explicitly based on religious precepts. Others, such as Hindu and Christian canon law, have been influenced by religious doctrine but then further elaborated by a combination of interpretative techniques, such as Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent.
All legal systems also have their own particular ‘legal culture’, which is a set of practices that determines the way law is written and interpreted. For example, common law systems tend to place judicial decisions on an equal footing with legislative statutes, and they use the principle of stare decisis to ensure that subsequent judges are bound by previous court rulings on similar cases.
Legal practice is a wide area, and encompasses criminal law, civil law, constitutional law and administrative law. Criminal law deals with the prevention of crime and the punishment of those who commit crimes. Civil law relates to the rights of individuals, and includes things such as property law, tort law and family law. Constitutional law is a branch of civil law, and involves the interpretation of a nation’s constitution. Administrative law is a type of public law, and encompasses things such as regulations and the operation of government agencies. The main aim of public law is to promote a safe and healthy environment, protect the public, and ensure that businesses and utilities operate effectively.