1 What is law?
Before considering how law is interpreted and the role it plays on society we need to be clear about what we mean when we refer to ‘law’. What is ‘law’, how do we know it exists and how is it defined? By asking you to think about what you mean when you use the word ‘law’, we are asking you to draw upon your own knowledge, views and experience.
The ‘law’ is rarely out of the news and is often the focus for fictional drama. It is something that touches our lives on a daily basis, it governs what we can and cannot do, it is used to settle disputes, to punish and to govern. There are laws which are widely accepted and laws which generate controversy. Laws play a central role in social, political and economic life.
Many people think they know what the law is when they see it and your individual viewpoint will affect how you define law. Many lawyers feel that a society cannot be properly understood or explained without an understanding of its law and legal culture.
There are many definitions of law and Activity 1 asks you to think about how law affects us all and how it can be defined in more detail.
Activity 1 Thinking about law
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This brings us to the definition of law that is used throughout this course. Law is a set of rules created by state institutions which make laws through the authority of the state. The laws have sanctions which are recognised by the state and enforced by state-authorised bodies. This is quite a wordy definition but it highlights some of the important factors in law-making:
- the authority of the state is needed
- only certain institutions can make law
- the institutions that make law have been given the authority to do so
- sanctions exist for breaking the law
- the sanctions are imposed by those given state authority to do so.