The Sources of Law


Law is a set of rules that are created and are enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has been described as a science and as the art of justice. It serves many purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. It is a major source of scholarly inquiry in legal history, philosophy and economic analysis and also raises complex issues of equality and fairness.

Historically, laws have been written by religious authorities, political leaders and rulers. They have also been imposed through military force or by government regulation. Today’s law can be divided into public and private law. The former includes the areas of criminal and civil law, while the latter covers such diverse subjects as labour law (the study of a tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union), property law, sex law and family law, and evidence law, which concerns which materials may be used in court for a case to be built.

Public law encompasses most activities that are under the control of the state, including education, health, transport and utilities. Increasingly, private companies are taking over many of the functions previously controlled by the state. For example, energy, water and telecommunications are now mostly privately owned and regulated. Private law is largely concerned with contracts between individuals and businesses.

In some societies, the most important source of law is religion. It is the basis of some legal systems, such as Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, and Christian canon law. This type of law is essentially unalterable, but it usually needs human elaboration to become more detailed and comprehensive. It requires interpretation, ijtihad (reasoning by analogy), qiyas (reasoning by consensus) and precedent.

There are also a variety of other sources of law, both in the form of statutes passed by legislatures and regulations issued by executive branches, and the “doctrine of stare decisis”, whereby decisions made by higher courts are binding on lower courts, to assure that future cases reach similar results. There are a variety of forms of civil law, and some nations have moved away from common law to civil code systems based on European codifications that were developed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Law is a system of social order, which ensures that everyone has a chance to succeed in life by respecting the liberties and rights of all individuals. This can be achieved only when the laws are well-conceived and properly enforced. This can be a difficult task, especially in a highly complex society. Nevertheless, the basic principles of law are clear: adherence to international human rights standards, supremacy of the rule of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, separation of powers and participation in decision making, fairness in application of the law, avoidance of arbitrariness, legal certainty and transparency. The laws must also be based on solid empirical foundations, and should be designed to reflect the reality of human behaviour in particular circumstances.

Comments are closed.