The Concept of Law

Law is the system of rules, customs and practices developed by a government or society to regulate a range of activities including crime, trade, property, relationships, justice, finance and more. Its main goal is to ensure a peaceful and ordered society, but its functions are broader than that. Laws protect people’s rights and provide a framework for resolving conflicts. For example, if two people claim the same piece of land, the courts decide which one is the rightful owner and how to protect that person’s rights.

There are a wide variety of definitions for law, but almost all theorists agree that it is something more than merely a system of rules for ordering human behaviour. Jurists such as Jeremy Bentham, Dean Roscoe Pound and John Chipman Gray have defined it as the form of Guarantee of the conditions of life of the people and assured by the power of the state to constrain them. It is a normative science that lays down ‘ought’ propositions of how people ought to behave; this is why Blackstone said that judges should be “the depositories of the law; the living oracles, bound by an oath to decide all cases without favour or prejudice.”

Many debates surround the concept of law, with a particular focus on what legal interpretation seeks to achieve. There is a common view that legal interpretation should aim to effectuate the intentions of lawmakers (legislators in the case of statutory or constitutional laws, and framers or ratifiers in the case of constitutional laws). However, it is also commonly held that this intention must be weighed against the linguistic meaning of the law.

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