Wherever people have lived together, they have found it necessary to develop rules of conduct. They need rules for the settlement of disputes. They also need rules for the organization of their governments. Law is the set of rules that the government enforces through its police, its courts, and its other agencies. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee demonstrates the importance of law in our communities, especially criminal law. Law makes it possible for men to live together peaceably in a community.
If there were no law, every man could do just as he pleased, with law, the people in a community know that the government will enforce rules that will make it possible for them to live together without conflict. The philosophy or science of law is called jurisprudence. There are two main kinds of laws. Civil or public law helps settle disputes between people or companies. Criminal law deals with crimes, or actions that cause serious harm to an individual or group.
Public law is the body of rules in which the government is directly involved. Public law regulates the relationships between individuals and the government. One group of rules in public law defines and limits the powers of the government. The part of public law most familiar to many persons is criminal law, which is the body of rules that we are commanded to obey. The government may fine those who do not obey, send them to jail, or even execute them. A number of smaller groups of rules also come under the general heading of public law.
International law is concerned with agreements among nations, problems of boundaries, and other questions arising from the relationships of one country with another. Constitutional law deals with the problems that have arisen about various clauses in the United States Constitution. Problems in constitutional law include the organization of the government and the guarantees of our liberties. Administrative law is the body of rules made by administrative or executive agencies of government.
The Interstate Commerce Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission are all examples of such an agency. Civil law includes the rules that regulate the relationships among people. Private law includes many smaller groups of rules. Some examples are the rules relating to contracts, personal injuries, and real estate. Most people think of only criminal law when they hear the word law. However, most lawyers and courts spend most of their time dealing with problems of private law.
These private law problems includes taxation, business affairs, the transfer of property, and the collection of money for people injured through the fault of others. Cases or proceedings in civil courts are often called lawsuits. Social conditions continually change, and so the law must also change or become outdated. Every nation changes its laws in the manner that its political system prescribes. In a dictatorship, only the top government leaders can change the law. Democracies, however, have developed four main methods of changing the law.
Democratic laws change by court decision, by legislation, by administrative action, and by the direct action of the people. Every independent country has its own legal system. The systems vary according to each country’s social traditions and form of government. However, most systems can be classed as either a common-law system or a civil-law system. The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other English-speaking countries have a common-law system. Most other countries have a civil-law system. Many countries combine features of both systems.
Law enforcement is one of the most important ways a government has of protecting its citizens. It usually refers to the action of police and the courts in catching and punishing criminals. However, a broad use of the term also includes the administration of justice in all law cases by the courts. Law enforcement is necessary to maintain order in a community, state, or country. Private citizens have more to do with law enforcement than simply obeying the laws. They should report to the authorities whenever they see a law being broken.
Every citizen has the right to arrest a person he sees committing a crime. In conclusion, law is one of the most basic social institutions and one of the most necessary. No society could exist if all people did just as they pleased, without regard for the rights of others, nor could a society exist if its members did not recognize that they also have certain obligations toward one another. The law thus establishes the rules that define a person’s rights and obligations. The law also sets penalties for people who violate these rules and states how government shall enforce the rules and penalties.