Law is a vast and incredibly complex subject. It spans a wide variety of disciplines, including theology, philosophy, sociology and history. There are three broad areas of law: Labour Law involves the study of the tripartite industrial relationship between employee, employer and trade unions; Criminal Law deals with the punishment of conduct considered harmful to social order; and Civil Law concerns how a citizen may be legally defended in lawsuits (disputes). These subjects intertwine, and there are many specific sub-disciplines within them, such as labour relations law, employment rights law, property law, family law and constitutional law. The study of law is vital for any society, and its broad remit provides a rich source of scholarly inquiry in the fields of legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.
The term “law” is commonly used to refer to a set of rules that a community or group of people agrees to uphold and enforce. These laws can be written, unwritten, codified or merely agreed to. The rules can be a system of governing principles, a set of policies, a code of conduct or even a morality. They are typically enforceable by some sort of authority such as a judge, magistrate, or executive.
One of the most important aspects of law is its epistemological accessibility, which is to say that it must be public knowledge and accessible to ordinary citizens in ways that allow them to internalize and understand it. It must also be able to function as a framework for planning and expectations, for settling disputes with others and for protecting against exploitation of the public by private powers. This requires the independence of judges, fairness in the application of law, transparency in government business, and the separation of powers.
Finally, law must be able to constrain human behaviour. This is achieved through the imposing of sanctions, either by the courts or by the police. The constraints imposed can include criminal, civil and administrative penalties such as fines, imprisonment and even the death penalty. The imposing of these sanctions is an essential component of the Rule of Law, as it takes some of the asymmetry out of political power by binding the rulers and the ruled in a mutual bond of constraint.
For these reasons, the Rule of Law is a very important part of any modern democracy. It reduces the potential for arbitrary or peremptory action and imposes what Fuller (1964) called a “bond of reciprocity.” Despite the poor concordance between the judicial community’s ideals about equality and the actual outcomes of cases in court, it does mitigate the asymmetry of political power, and it establishes some degree of consistency and objectivity.