The Role of Law in Society

Law informs every aspect of people’s lives, from their health and safety to their rights to property, money or services. The subject of law can be broken down into three broad categories, though there is substantial cross-over: tort law covers disputes about compensation for harm, such as damage to goods or injury in an accident; criminal law deals with the punishment of people who break the rules set by a government; and administrative law concerns the regulations and procedures that govern how people do business, such as tax laws, banking regulations and the admissibility of evidence in court.

The principal function of Law is to establish standards, maintain order and resolve disputes. It also provides a basis for the allocation of resources (e.g. through the provision of public services or utilities), defines the limits of state power and protects individuals’ liberty and rights. Law varies across nation-states; there are civil law jurisdictions, where legislative statutes are binding, and common law systems, in which judge-made precedent is binding. In addition, there are a number of religious law systems that address secular matters.

Laws may be interpreted in different ways by people, and they are often changed. The nature of the changes is shaped by the political climate, and there are recurrent debates about the role of law in society, including whether or not it should be left to professional judges or to self-governing communities. There are also ongoing debates about the extent to which the law is accountable to its citizens, and how this accountability can be maintained when a court’s decisions have far-reaching consequences for many people.

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