The Different Types of Law

The Different Types of Law

Law is the system of rules that governs human conduct and is enforced by a controlling authority. It orders, permits, and announces rewards and punishments. In modern societies, it is typically enforced by a police force, the courts, and/or the executive branch of government. It covers a wide variety of topics, from contract law to criminal law to medical jurisprudence. Some branches of law are more specific, such as aviation law or family law. Others are broader, such as the law of war or the laws of commerce.

The development of law has depended on a variety of factors, including social settings, disputes over power and control, and the availability of technology. In some countries, legal systems are derived from religious precepts, such as the Jewish Halakha or Islamic Sharia. Often, these acts as a source of further law through interpretation, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), and Ijma (consensus). Other legal systems derive from the elaboration of judicial decisions through the “doctrine of precedent”, in which the judgments of higher courts bind lower ones.

Some legal branches develop as a result of economic changes, for example the law of property and the law of corporations. The latter, with its rules on the transfer of ownership and control of a business, is based on the principle that companies should have distinct legal personalities. Commercial law also includes complex contracts and the law of agency, insurance law, bills of exchange, and insolvency and bankruptcy laws. Many of these laws are codified, and in some areas, such as aviation or railroads, federal statutes override state law.

Other legal branches are derived from philosophical theories about the nature of society and about the nature of law itself. Bentham’s utilitarian theory of law, for instance, defines it as a system of commands backed by the threat of sanctions from a sovereign. Others, like Jean Jacques Rousseau, argue that law reflects innate moral principles that are unchangeable.

The law is the basis for society’s stability and growth, and its failure to function well can lead to conflict and violence. For this reason, many cultures and societies have a strong sense of justice. In some cases, the law is perceived as an enemy, and its functions are viewed as corrupt. This is particularly true in the case of dictatorships. See also constitutional law; legal system; legality; and the laws of war.