The Importance of Law
Law is a set of rules that governs the behavior of people and communities and is enforced by a controlling authority through penalties. Laws can be found in all areas of life, from criminal to civil. In the most general sense, a law is a rule that must be followed – for example, a car driver must obey the speed limit. Laws can also be rules that must be obeyed for ethical reasons, such as the commandments of a religion or the dictates of a conscience.
Law has a number of different functions in society, from maintaining peace and the status quo to regulating social change and protecting individual rights. Various legal systems serve these purposes differently. Some are more effective than others, but all legal systems require an adequate degree of trust from their subjects and must be fair in their application.
A major goal of law is to regulate human conduct in order to protect individuals and societies against the abuses of power that are inherent in political life. To do this, laws must be accessible to all members of the population and their enactment must take place in transparent ways. Laws should be general in nature, and the making of particular laws should be guided by open and relatively stable general principles that can be interpreted and applied to specific orders and contexts.
While there is considerable controversy about what constitutes the Rule of Law, most observers agree that it requires a combination of formal and procedural ideals. The formal ideals concern the generality, clarity, publicity, and stability of the norms that govern a community; they also require an impartial application of these norms and the institutions (like courts and an independent judiciary) necessary to administer them.
On the other hand, most people value procedural ideals that imply a minimum level of transparency and accountability in the law-making process. This includes the principle of non-coerciveness, the principle that a ruler must justify any coercive act to his or her subjects, and the principle that a ruler should not arbitrarily discriminate against citizens in their application of the law.
In addition, many people believe that the Rule of Law requires a minimum level of public understanding of and acceptance of the law. This is especially important because civil law is a vital part of daily life, governing almost every aspect of the work, home, and family. This is why most countries have civil law departments that provide education and training for lawyers and other personnel.
Most countries have a system of law that is derived from statutes, case law, or some other form of codified legislation. Some countries, such as the United States, have a common law system in which judges interpret statutes and other legislative acts to reach their decisions. Other countries have civil law systems in which a set of rules is used to guide judges. Some nations have special courts devoted to dealing with particular kinds of cases, such as terrorism or murder, while other jurisdictions handle these crimes in their regular courts.