The Purpose of Law

The Purpose of Law


Law is a system of rules and principles that governs the behaviour of a society and its members. It may be written, oral or customary and is enforced by a government agency. Its purpose is to protect people, property and public order, as well as establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and enforcing justice. The ideal law is one that is publicly disclosed, stable and enforceable. It also ensures human rights and freedoms, and is applied equally to all citizens.

It establishes minimum standards for acceptable behaviour in a society, for example, by making certain acts illegal. These laws are generally created through a legislative body (such as a parliament or legislature). Laws can be prohibitory, directing what must not be done; or permissive, describing what is allowed. Laws can also be based on a religious basis, e.g. sharia law in Islamic countries.

Maintaining Order: Laws prevent disorder and insecurity by providing a formal means of settling disputes between citizens and/or governing institutions. Disputes are unavoidable in a society that consists of individuals with different needs, wants, values and views. By ensuring that the law is always available to resolve these conflicts, it gives everyone an opportunity for a fair and reasonable outcome.

Creating Justice: The ultimate aim of the law is to achieve justice. This can be either distributive or corrective, and encompasses both compensatory and retributive justice. Distributive justice seeks to distribute benefits fairly among members of a society while corrective justice aims to remedy injustice.

It shapes politics, economics and history by regulating activities and giving direction to society. It also reflects a country’s social and cultural attitudes, such as its values of equality, fairness and justice. It provides a source of scholarly inquiry, including legal history, philosophy and economic analysis.

The law covers a vast range of subjects, from criminal law to property law. It also includes civil procedure, which outlines the process courts must follow as trials and appeals proceed; and evidence law, which covers the admissibility of materials used in court. Other topics include administrative law, which deals with how governments and companies operate; constitutional law; labour law, which covers the tripartite relationship between employer, trade unions and employee; and maritime law.

The study of law is a vital part of the discipline of jurisprudence, which explores the development of law and its impact on society and individual rights. It is an essential subject for anyone interested in understanding the foundation of our modern democratic societies. This Oxford Reference article covers the key topics in law, enabling researchers to understand the fundamentals of this broad and complex field. It is easy to use and up-to-date, with expert-authored entries by leading international specialists covering the major terms and concepts in this area of study. It is an invaluable resource for students, academics and professionals. It also forms the basis for further scholarly research in areas such as comparative law, historical and philosophical study of law and legal theory.