The Importance of Law

Law is a body of rules created by a government to ensure people behave in a certain way and that those who break the law are punished. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in a variety of ways and acts as a mediator between people. Its importance is reflected in the fact that all countries have some form of legal system, even if it is not a written constitution and codified laws.

Law has many different aspects, including judicial procedure, criminal law, property law, corporate and commercial law and statutory law. Each of these has a different historical origin and influences the way that laws are made and enforced.

A judicial procedure is the process by which a court of law decides a lawsuit brought before it. The term ‘judge’ refers to the individual who makes this decision; in most countries, judges are called justices or magistrates. The procedural system that has evolved for courts varies greatly between countries and jurisdictions but includes the right to appeal a judgement and the requirement that all parties must be given a fair hearing before the case can be decided.

A criminal law is a body of rules that governs the punishment of those who commit a crime, such as murder or theft. Its development has been influenced by social change, religious beliefs and political philosophy. The nature of criminal law is debated; some see it as an effective deterrent against recidivism, while others argue that the strict application of the law leads to injustice and disproportionate punishment.

The earliest forms of legal procedure in a country were established as a result of the evolution of commercial transactions. For example, company law grew from the law of trusts and the idea that ownership of property can be separated from control of a business, while the modern system of insolvency law has roots in the medieval Lex Mercatoria. Commercial law also includes the legal principles behind contracts, insolvency and bankruptcy, the sale of goods, and property rights.

Max Weber reshaped thinking on the extension of state power, while modern military, policing and bureaucratic powers pose special problems for accountability that earlier writers such as Locke or Montesquieu could not have foreseen. In addition, a number of international conventions and treaties have been created to regulate the use of force in war and peace.

Roscoe Pound defined law as “law acting as a social institution”. In this view, law is based on social wants and is coercive. This view has many critics and it is not clear whether this type of law can actually exist, as it would require the existence of a culture that values the concept of morality and other normative domains such as religion, etiquette and social conventions.

Hans Kelsen developed a theory of law that defines it as a ‘normative science’. In this view, law describes what must occur and not what ought to happen, and it can be defined as the prediction of how an individual’s own narrative will intersect with the communal narrative. This definition of law is based on probability and, according to Holmes, “as experience flows, the participants’ probabilistic estimates are continuously updated” and “a new law is constantly being built up as an immanent structure”.