Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. Although laws differ across countries (and sometimes within a country), they generally have some common elements based on historically accepted justice ideals.
Jurists have offered a number of definitions of law. The most popular are those of the realist, legal theorist and sociological schools. Realists define law as a body of laws recognised and enforced by the state, which establish standards and expectations for human behaviour in specific situations and circumstances. This definition includes rules for the conduct of courts and the administration of justice.
Legal theorists define law as a system of rules which aims to establish and promote order and stability in society. This definition also involves a belief that law is a mechanism for harmonizing conflicting groups in society. This theory of the role of law does not accept that there exists a shared value system among all members of a society and therefore assumes that there are many conflicting social interests and a variety of different groups which need to be accommodated.
Sociological school of law defines the concept of law as an instrument of social progress and development. This theory considers the impact of law on both the individual and society, with the ultimate goal being to create an idealistic jurisprudence. This concept is based on the assumption that the state is a neutral arbiter which provides the machinery for conflict resolution and achieving social harmony.
Jeremy Bentham, a prominent liberal thinker and philosopher, described law as an “art of reason”. His definition focused on the use of logic and rationality in the decision making process. He also emphasized the importance of justice and fairness in the process of law-making.
Other prominent legal philosophers have emphasized the moral aspects of law. Jurists such as John Chipman Gray and Jeremy Bentham have written about the importance of respect for persons, and the obligation not to show bias or favouritism in court proceedings.
In the modern era, the concept of law has been impacted by changing societal values and technological advancements in communication. These changes have resulted in the emergence of new types of laws which are designed to address these issues. This has influenced the way that laws are developed and enforced, and has contributed to the diversity of the legal landscape.
Studying law at university can be a daunting prospect, with plenty of myths and stereotypes floating around, from the mostly accurate to the utterly fantastical. This article is intended to debunk some of these myths and provide some useful advice to those considering taking up this challenging yet rewarding subject. It is hoped that this will give future students the best chance of enjoying their studies and navigating through the minefield of law!