The Definition of Law and the Role of Law in Society


Law is a system of rules that governs human behavior and defines the rights and duties of people, whether they are citizens or not. It consists of a variety of legal areas that are derived from many sources. The most basic of these laws are those governing people’s conduct within the context of their social and economic relationships. People who break the law are subject to punishment by police or courts. Law also covers the broader issues of property, commerce and government.

In most modern nations, laws are made and enforced by a legislative body called a parliament or congress that is elected by the governed. This legislative body may create a constitution for an overall framework and then make further laws for more detailed issues. The governed must respect all laws or face consequences, including fines and imprisonment.

Those who have the power to make and enforce law are often called sovereigns or dictators. Despite this, there are still revolts and aspirations for greater democracy and rights for the people from many different countries. Many of these conflicts are about the balance between the political power needed to make and enforce law and the need for stable and well-resourced governments that can serve the law’s principal functions.

The definition of law has been shaped by different theories of society and the role of law. Max Weber, for example, argued that the purpose of law was to control behavior and thereby shape society. Other writers have described how the law is a means of social engineering, attempting to meet various social wants.

There are different types of law, reflecting the different cultures and history of a country. For example, a civil law system typically has a more extensive set of legislation while a common law system is more flexible and allows judges to create their own rules. Many of these legal systems are also based on religion and scripture, such as the Jewish Halakhah or Islamic Sharia.

The societal role of law is complex and far-reaching. For example, tort law determines the compensation that people should receive if they are harmed by the actions of others. Criminal law imposes punishment on people who commit crimes, such as murder or fraud. Corporate and regulatory law establishes the minimum standards for companies to operate and guidelines for investment banks to follow. Public service and utility law governs the provision of essential services by the government and by private corporations that are taking over jobs previously done by government agencies. A number of these areas are undergoing major reforms in the wake of privatisation. These changes raise serious questions about accountability and the extent to which law serves the interests of society as a whole. It is these broader issues that will shape the future of the law.