Law is a system of rules that a government or other authority enforces to govern human behaviour. It consists of both written statutes and judicial precedent. Laws regulate many aspects of people’s lives, from buying a bus ticket to trading on a derivatives market. Laws may be made by a legislature, which creates statutory law, or by the executive, which makes regulations and orders, or by judges through legal precedent.
The precise definition of law is a subject of long-standing debate. The philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian interpretation of law states that it is “commands, backed by the threat of sanctions, from a sovereign, to whom men have a habit of obedience.” Other schools of thought have proposed that law should reflect a moral code that is unchanging.
While laws vary from country to country, all societies have them in some form. Laws set out how to make and break contracts, and the rights and duties of individuals. They are the framework that keeps society stable and cohesive. They protect the vulnerable, and reward and punish deserving and undeserving citizens alike. Law is a tool of social control, and its purpose is to serve the needs of society.
Statutory law – the laws enacted by legislatures and made enforceable by courts – is the most widespread type of law. It covers a wide variety of topics, including banking and financial regulation, intellectual property, family law, employment and labour law, criminal law, and public services such as water and energy. Statutory laws are passed by legislators, and they can be amended or repealed by subsequent legislation.
Court-based law, derived from judicial decisions, is the second most common type of law. Judges interpret a statute’s wording according to the context of its creation, and their decisions are binding on lower courts in the jurisdiction where they are sitting. A judge’s decision can also be influential in other jurisdictions, depending on the degree to which it is followed or rejected.
Judiciary-based law is complex and varies between different countries. In some jurisdictions, the law is a combination of statutory and constitutional law, while in others, it is solely statutory. Generally, interpreting a statute requires consideration of its historical background and a knowledge of the language used at the time it was enacted. A guide such as a dictionary, or a publication like Words and Phrases, can be useful for understanding the meaning of specific words in a particular statute.
Law can be a powerful force in our daily lives, but it can also be a source of confusion and misinformation. Educating ourselves about the law is essential to navigating our society effectively. By knowing the basics of how law works, we can be more informed and make better choices about our legal situation. This article aims to provide an overview of key concepts in law, and how they relate to each other. It will help you understand the complexity of law, and what you need to know before seeking out legal advice.