The Basics of Law
Law is a complex area of study and has many sub-disciplines. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways and serves as mediator of relations between people. It can be divided into two broad categories – civil law and common law. Civil law jurisdictions have a legal system built on the categories and concepts of Roman law whereas common law systems rely on judge-made precedent. These are not mutually exclusive and both can coexist in the same country.
The main purposes of the law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. It can also be used to regulate a variety of activities such as competition, consumer protection and medical jurisprudence. The law provides a way of settling conflicts and conflicts can arise even in the most peaceful societies. For example, if two people want to keep the same piece of land, a court can determine who owns it. It can also ensure that public officials and police officers carry out their duties.
However, laws can not mandate behaviours which are impossible given the shape of the world or force people to do things beyond their capabilities. As such, it is difficult to distinguish between natural and positive law.
A central concept of the law is justice, which means fairness and equity. The law should be accessible and clear and should not discriminate against anyone. The sages of the Bible tell us that “Thou shalt not respect persons in judgment; neither shall thou favor a poor man in his cause.”
The law can be based on religious doctrines such as the Sharia in Islamic countries or it can be secular. However, there are some fundamental principles that are universally accepted. The law should be clear, accessible and stable. It should provide property and contract rights as well as human rights and freedoms. The law should ensure that citizens and business can trust the state to be a source of justice.
The law covers almost every aspect of life. For example, labour law involves the tripartite industrial relationship between employee, employer and trade unions and includes regulation on collective bargaining and the right to strike. Family law encompasses issues such as divorce and custody of children. Criminal law deals with the punishment of people who break social norms. Commercial law concerns the regulations on businesses such as competition law, intellectual property law and securities law. Evidence law is the set of rules governing what can be presented in court cases such as criminal trials and appeals. The law is a vast and fascinating subject which can be studied at university level. The law is a vital part of the modern society. Lawyers are called ‘the stewards of the law’ and have a sacred duty to uphold the principles of justice and equality. The law also provides a source of scholarly inquiry in areas such as historical analysis, philosophy, economics and sociology. It is also the subject of a range of popular books and films.