The Importance of Law

Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, and it has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice. The idea of law is often viewed as central to human society, and its importance has given rise to a number of philosophical approaches to the study of law.

The most important function of law is to limit the exercise of power in a political community. It establishes what Fuller (1964: 39-40) calls a bond of constraint between the ruler and the ruled. In doing so, it mitigates the asymmetry that is otherwise inherent in politics and prevents rulers from exercising their power in arbitrary or peremptory ways.

Most nations have a legal system that serves the principal functions of law—to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, protect minorities from majorities, preserve individual rights, and facilitate orderly social change. The functioning of these systems differs considerably from nation to nation, however. For example, in some countries, terrorism cases are heard in courts that have jurisdiction over a broad range of crimes, while in others, such cases are confined to special courts intended to focus on the unique issues involved in terrorist crime.

Law can also be defined in a narrower sense as the precepts by which man, being a creature endowed with both reason and free will, is commanded to exercise those faculties. In this broader sense, laws can be regarded as the rules of action” that some superior being prescribes for inferiors to obey.

Although many jurists follow Raz 1977 and think of the Rule of Law as a formal/procedural ideal, others believe that its substantive dimensions (i.e., stability, publicity, and clarity) have a strong bearing on the conditions of liberty. These features reflect the idea that it is necessary for people to have a clear picture of what the law requires of them in order to make plans, formulate expectations, and settle disputes with other people.

Regardless of how the law is framed or understood, it is essential that it be accessible to ordinary citizens. This requires that laws be written in language that is comprehensible to them, and that they are available to them through a variety of means, including legal publications. It is also necessary that laws be enforceable, so that they can be used to uphold their rights and settle disputes with other people. In addition, the rule of law can be strengthened by ensuring that judicial decisions are made independently from government officials and that public business is conducted openly. In this way, the rule of law can serve as an antidote to corruption.