The Nature of Law


Law, broadly conceived, is the system of rules and procedures established by social or governmental institutions to govern behaviour. It is a subject of profound and sometimes controversial debate. Philosophical speculations about the nature of law tend to be shaped by the political circumstances of the time and place of their formulation, and are also often carried out with a specific kind of legal system and culture in mind.

The law is a very complex affair, covering a wide variety of topics, from the rights and duties of citizens to the way in which courts decide disputes. It includes a wide variety of social restrictions, including criminal and civil penalties for wrongdoing; the censorship of speech; and the use of the police and military to enforce the law. It encompasses the rules governing business and commerce; the legal status of companies and trusts; property, real or personal; and intellectual property.

The rule of law, a highly demanding standard, involves a wide range of practices, all aimed at ensuring that the laws are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, that people can participate in the decision-making process, that there is separation of powers and that there is judicial and legal transparency. It is a standard that requires adherence to international human rights norms and standards. Law is also a very dynamic affair. The way we think about it changes, as new issues emerge and old ones are reframed in light of fresh evidence, developments in technology and advances in the social sciences.

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