Law is the set of rules and principles that governs the behaviour of people within a society. It consists of statutes and judgments (judicial decisions). Law governs all aspects of human interaction including private and business affairs, property rights, crime and justice. Laws differ from one place to another because the cultural and ethical beliefs of the people living in a particular area influence its laws. The purpose of Law is to ensure that all members of society live in peace and with mutual respect. It also ensures that the rights of everyone are protected.
Its main functions are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. People may disagree with the way in which the law is enforced, but there is usually agreement that laws serve an important social function.
In legal systems with a common law tradition, judicial decisions are recognised as “law” alongside the statutes passed through legislative processes and the regulations issued by executive authorities. This principle, known as stare decisis, means that a court’s decision in a case will govern subsequent cases on the same point. The law is thus built up through case law and the doctrine of precedent.
The theory of natural law is an attempt to explain the origins of law and its validity. It suggests that the fundamental purpose of law is to provide justice, which may be distributive or corrective. It also tries to justify the approaches and bias of judges. However, the theory is highly flawed as it is based on a subjective view of humanity and fails to take into account the fact that people’s ethics and morality are very different from one another.
Another theory is that law is a system of rules created by the government to control the conduct of its citizens and protect them from harm. This explains why the laws are so different from one country to the next. It is also possible to view law as a collection of precepts that are enforceable because they have been approved by the sovereign or are backed by sanction. However, this view of law is unable to explain why certain laws are made and why they are not universally accepted. The reality is that the shape of the physical world and its limitations prevent any laws from mandating behaviours which are unattainable or forcing people to do things that are beyond their capabilities. Moreover, the concept of a law that is universally applicable ignores the fact that people’s minds are not all equal and therefore a universal law cannot be established.