Law is the set of rules and principles that governs human behaviour. These are developed by a sovereign or state authority to command what is right and prohibit what is wrong, and they also regulate the actions of others. This is a complex subject, and this article covers some of the deeper dimensions of it. It focuses on three areas of law, but many of these subjects overlap and intertwine. These areas are labour law (the tripartite relationship between worker, employer and trade union), criminal law, and civil procedure and evidence law.
The purpose of law is to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice and provide for orderly social change. The extent to which a particular nation or society fulfils these purposes depends on its government, the kind of political system it has. A dictatorship, for example, may keep the peace and maintain the status quo but will not protect the rights of its citizens.
The law reflects the basic moral values of a society. It establishes standards of minimally acceptable behaviour and some behaviours are considered criminal because society, through its legislative body, has determined that they are injurious to the general welfare. For instance, it is a crime to hurt other people or damage their property.
This is one of the main functions of the law. In a society made up of individuals who have different needs, wants and values, conflicts are unavoidable. The law provides a formal mechanism for resolving them, which is the court system.
The Law and Morality
In Christianity, the law serves as a mirror that shows sinners their need for a Savior to redeem them from its condemnation (Romans 3:19 & 5:13). It also highlights the fact that the law identifies sin as evil and that it is God who judges those who violate it.
The study of law is a broad field with many theories. Two broad schools are existent, idealist and realist. The idealists see the law as a way of bringing about societal stability and harmony by protecting the societys shared beliefs or social values to which everyone subscribes. This theory contrasts with the neo-realist school, which views the law as a tool for harmonizing conflicting groups. Both schools of thought have been influenced by Max Weber, who reshaped thinking about the extension of the state and what makes it legitimate. The modern military, policing and bureaucracy pose special problems that earlier writers like Locke or Montesquieu could not have anticipated. These challenges are important for developing legal philosophy and practice. They include the responsibilities and limits of those in power, the need for a democratic legal system, and the role of social institutions, communities and partnerships that provide the political basis for law. This is what is called civil society. The study of law is an exciting and important endeavor. It has a direct impact on the lives of individuals and on the future of the planet.