Definitions of Law

Law is a system of rules governing society and the activities of its members. These include: a nation’s political-legal authority; standards of conduct instilled by family, school and religion; workplace regulations enforced by civil courts; and sanctions available through criminal law and tort actions. Generally, a country’s laws are created and governed by a constitutional or other national document. These laws are interpreted by the judiciary, with appeals to higher authorities if necessary.

The purpose of law is to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, protect minorities from majorities, promote social justice and provide orderly social change. The law may serve these purposes more successfully in some nations than others. The principal function of a government is to make and enforce laws. This is accomplished in a variety of ways, depending on the political climate and cultural context of each nation.

One group of definitions views a law as an aggregate set of commands, backed by the threat of sanctions, from a sovereign to men who are his political subjects. This view of law was formulated by John Austin and is sometimes called utilitarian or “natural” law. Other thinkers, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Jeremy Bentham, argue that law reflects a moral and unchanging set of principles that humans are naturally inclined to obey.

Another group of definitions of law focuses on the process of determining what a specific case’s law is. This involves several stages, beginning with the collection of all relevant facts. Next, the laws relating to that case are searched for and located. This includes legal codes, statutes and court decisions (either earlier or more recent). Then, the judicial interpretation of these laws is applied to the case at hand.

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