The Importance of Law


Law is the set of rules created by a society which are enforced by mechanisms that punish violators. The law defines rights and responsibilities for all members of a community. It influences politics, economics, history and society in a variety of ways. Its importance is such that some people devote their lives to studying it and becoming lawyers or judges.

Legal systems vary widely across nations and between societies within a nation. Generally, the laws of a nation are based on its constitution, whether written or implicit; on the governing structures, such as democracy, a republic, a monarchy or a parliamentary system; and on its values, such as tolerance, equality and justice.

Different legal systems have developed from historical and cultural influences. For example, Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia are explicitly based on religious precepts. However, they also rely on further human elaboration by way of interpretation, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent to produce comprehensive legal systems.

The major categories of law include criminal, civil, constitutional and administrative. Criminal law relates to offenses against the state and includes crimes such as murder and theft. Civil law relates to disputes between individuals, such as the right to compensation in tort cases, such as an automobile accident or defamation. Constitutional law relates to the basic structure of a country and guarantees individual freedoms, such as freedom of speech. Administrative law deals with the management of public resources, such as energy, gas, water and telecommunications. It also regulates industries that were previously controlled by the public sector, such as banking and financial regulation.

In a democracy, the power to make and enforce law is shared by the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judiciary. A parliamentary system may have additional structures to ensure that the legislature does not become too dominant, such as procedures such as “no confidence” votes and regular elections.

The laws of a nation shape many aspects of its culture, economy and social relationships. The fundamental purpose of law is to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve social justice and promote orderly social change. Laws that do not serve these goals, such as those of authoritarian regimes, are often unpopular and resisted. In these circumstances, a revolution is often necessary to replace them with a more democratic government. Even a stable democracy, however, requires mechanisms to prevent abuse of power by its elected leaders. In any form of government, the ultimate test of the rule of law is whether core human and procedural rights are guaranteed to all its citizens. A society which does not provide for this will not have a fully functional rule of law. In contrast, a society which has these safeguards is in a much better position to thrive. The rule of law is one of the primary factors that distinguishes the most prosperous societies from the poorest. It is not always possible to achieve this, of course. But it is a goal worth striving for.