Law is a complex concept that covers the body of rules and principles enforced by governmental institutions to regulate behavior. The precise definition is the subject of much debate. However, some of the more common views are summarized below.
Legal scholars divide the field of study into several main categories. Core subjects are human rights, property law and procedural law. However, law extends beyond these into virtually every area of life. Consequently, many of these subject areas intertwine and overlap with each other. For example, labour laws include collective bargaining regulation, whilst civil procedure and criminal procedure law both concern a citizen’s right to a fair trial or hearing. Environmental law is concerned with the protection of natural resources and public health regulations are a subset of health laws. Space law is a new field that addresses the regulation of human activities in outer space and Earth orbit.
An idealistic view of law holds that it is a command from a sovereign to his subjects, binding them and imposing a sanction on them if they do not obey. This view of law is based on a belief that society should be ordered according to certain fundamental values, and that the state should have the power to enforce this order.
A more practical, scientific approach to law focuses on the objective characteristics of a system. Its goal is to understand the laws of nature and man and how they can be applied to improve society. The legal science of jurisprudence is the primary tool used to achieve this aim.
The main aims of the legal system are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberty and rights. The legal system also ensures that everybody has a fair chance of being treated equally, regardless of wealth or social status.
To accomplish this, the legal system consists of four key parts:
Norms of Law
Norms of law are the foundation on which a legal system is built. They are the principles that govern how judges decide cases and the manner in which they should interpret statutory and case law. These governing principles are set out in the rules of law, which are binding on all judges.
Laws are determined and enforced through a variety of means, including legislative instruments, judicial precedents and custom. The modern formal sources of law are statutes or legislation and judicial decisions, although judges can use persuasive sources when deciding on a particular issue.
Two methods of interpreting the meaning of law are known as originalism and textualism. Originalism requires a judge to discover the original intent of the legislators who passed the law and to follow that, regardless of changes in social conditions. Textualism, on the other hand, requires a judge to use only the literal words of a statute and refuse to consider any matters of policy that might enlarge its scope. These hermeneutical styles of interpretation are criticized for their narrow focus on the explicit words of a statute and for failing to take into account a law’s historical context.