Law is a system of rules, either written or unwritten, that imposes order and regulates conduct within a society. It can be enforced by state-enforced institutions, such as police forces and government ministries; by social institutions, such as churches and trade unions; or by private individuals through contracts. Law can cover almost any area of human activity, from the regulation of competition to airline baggage policies. It can shape politics, economics, history and culture and provide a source of scholarly inquiry in legal history, philosophy, sociology and economic analysis.
In general, the goals of law include keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo and promoting social justice. However, some legal systems achieve these goals more effectively than others. For example, a nation ruled by an authoritarian state may keep the peace, but it will often oppress minorities or oppose democratic change. Laws also serve other social purposes, such as preventing property fraud, protecting children from abuse and resolving disputes.
The main branches of law are criminal, civil and common. In “civil law” jurisdictions, the laws are made by a legislature, resulting in statutes, and in the “common law” system, judges’ decisions are binding. The latter is based on the principle of stare decisis, meaning that previous court decisions are to be followed in subsequent cases.
Some of the fields that law covers are administrative, aviation, commercial, labour and property. Criminal law deals with activities that violate the rights of other people and is enforceable by the state; civil law resolves conflicts between individuals, while family and property laws deal with issues such as inheritance and the division of assets. Common law includes a large body of case law that judges have developed through their own interpretations of precedent.
Other areas of law include competition, consumer, environmental and intellectual property. For instance, antitrust laws, derived from Roman decrees and English restraint of trade doctrines, seek to prevent businesses from using their market power to distort prices. Environmental laws protect the atmosphere and other natural resources, while intellectual property law covers the right to own and profit from inventions, whether they are physical objects or ideas.
In addition to addressing these specific fields, law is a source of scholarly inquiry into legal history and philosophy, economics, sociology and political science. For examples, articles on law cover topics such as the development of legal systems, judicial decision-making and the ethics of the profession. Law is an important subject for study and it plays a key role in modern societies. Without a strong legal system, we would not be able to live in peace and harmony with our fellow citizens. Thankfully, Canada has a strong and effective legal system that is fair to everyone. It is a good model for other countries to follow. The Canadian approach to the rule of law is a valuable contribution to international law and human rights. This article is an extract from a larger essay that explores the importance of law in our daily lives and why it is so important to protect it.