The Nature and Purpose of Law

A body of rules established and enforced by a sovereign authority. It embodies the will of its sovereign in relation to the conduct of citizens, and demands obedience by all who are subject to it. It may impose punishments as well as rewards.

A legal system defines rights and obligations, provides a framework for society to function smoothly, ensures a fair and open trial, and punishes wrongdoers. It also protects individual liberty and guarantees free trade. But a system of law is only as good as the people who uphold and apply it.

People have different ideas about the nature and purpose of law. Nevertheless, most agree that it is important to have an organised way to resolve disputes between individuals and among groups. This is the primary function of law. Laws may regulate contracts, property, labour, or business activities.

For example, contract law lays down the terms of commercial transactions, such as selling a car or writing a cheque. Property law deals with ownership of tangible property (e.g., land or houses) and intangible property such as bank accounts and shares of stock. Labour law concerns a tripartite relationship between worker, employer and trade unions, and employment law provides for workplace rights such as a minimum wage. Competition law covers monopolies and cartels, and draws upon Roman decrees against price fixing and English restraint of trade doctrine. Aviation law lays down the regulations and technical standards for aircraft, and is largely aligned with the recommendations or mandatory standards of international bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation.