Law is a system of rules that a society or government develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. It is also a term that refers to the people who work in this system, such as judges and lawyers. There are many different kinds of laws, including criminal law, civil law, and international law. The term law can also be used to describe a specific field of law, such as patent law or intellectual property law.
Laws are a means of regulating behavior, either by commanding what is right or prohibiting what is wrong. They may be based on natural principles or may be derived from custom and tradition, as well as the decisions of individuals or groups. The most important criterion for any legal system is whether it promotes the rule of law. This concept, enshrined in the United Nations Charter, requires that all governments, whether democratic or authoritarian, be accountable to the law and that it be publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated. It further calls for separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, and avoidance of arbitrariness.
A law is a statement of invariable relationships that hold for any phenomena under the specified conditions. Physical laws, such as Boyle’s law, describe the relationship between pressure and volume in an ideal gas. A legal law, however, describes what is right and wrong to do under the given circumstances. The law must be permanent as to time, uniform with respect to all persons, and universally applied in all locations.
The primary function of a law is to maintain social order and provide for the resolution of disputes. A nation’s law also serves the purposes of promoting social justice, preserving minorities against majorities, and providing for the peaceful transfer of power. The degree to which a particular legal system achieves these goals depends largely on the character of its ruling class and its culture.
In the Bible, the word law is used to refer to God’s commands. This usage stresses the idea that law is not just a matter of choice, but that God’s will and design are inseparable from the right way to live. The Old Testament commands that judges and officers “shalt not show favoritism nor respect of persons in judgment”. In the New Testament, Jesus stresses the same principle.
The rule of law is a complex notion, and many philosophies have developed on its meaning and implications. One common view is that the rule of law entails the concept of equality before the law, which holds that even the most powerful rulers are subject to existing laws and cannot grant themselves privileges not extended to other citizens. The concept of rule of law is also viewed as an essential component in the process of political democracy, which stresses a separation of the state and the church. Other views rely on more substantive concepts, such as the supremacy of the law and the concept of independence in judicial decisions.