McCoubrey and White said that the question “what is law?” has no simple answer. Glanville Williams said that the meaning of the word “law” depends on the context in which that word is used. He said that, for example, “early customary law” and “municipal law” were contexts where the word “law” had two different and irreconcilable meanings.
Christina Swarns L’93, who has dedicated her career to criminal justice reform, speaks with Essence about her position as Executive Director of the Innocence Project. The JD Class of 2025 embodies Penn Carey Law’s strong commitments to cross-disciplinary learning, advocacy, service, and academic excellence. Wisconsin Law in Action is a monthly podcast featuring new or forthcoming scholarship from the UW Law School Faculty, exploring a variety of legal topics and examining new developments in the legal academic field.
- This distinction is stronger in civil law countries, particularly those with a separate system of administrative courts; by contrast, the public-private law divide is less pronounced in common law jurisdictions.
- Many use their degrees to succeed in related fields, such as business, education, and finance.
- Admiralty law also encompasses specialised issues such as salvage, maritime liens, and injuries to passengers.
- International, constitutional and administrative law, criminal law, contract, tort, property law and trusts are regarded as the “traditional core subjects”, although there are many further disciplines.
- Articles that delineate the relationship of law to political structures are constitution; ideology; political party; and political system.
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Yet Ancient Greek law contained major constitutional innovations in the development of democracy. The most prominent economic analyst of law is 1991 Nobel Prize winner Ronald Coase, whose first major article, The Nature of the Firm , argued that the reason for the existence of firms (companies, partnerships, etc.) is the existence of transaction costs. Rational individuals trade through bilateral contracts on open markets until the costs of transactions mean that using corporations to produce things is more cost-effective. His second major article, The Problem of Social Cost , argued that if we lived in a world without transaction costs, people would bargain with one another to create the same allocation of resources, regardless of the way a court might rule in property disputes.
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John Austin’s utilitarian answer was that law is “commands, backed by threat of sanctions, from a sovereign, to whom people have a habit of obedience”. Natural lawyers on the other side, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, argue that law reflects essentially moral and unchangeable laws of nature. The concept of “natural law” emerged in ancient Greek philosophy concurrently and in connection with the notion of justice, and re-entered the mainstream of Western culture through the writings of Thomas Aquinas, notably his Treatise on Law.
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Environmental law is increasingly important, especially in light of the Kyoto Protocol and the potential danger of climate change. Environmental protection also serves to penalise polluters within domestic legal systems. Civil procedure and criminal procedure concern the rules that courts must follow as a trial and appeals proceed. Lord King LC was worried that trustees might exploit opportunities to use trust property for themselves instead of looking after it.
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Immanuel Kant believed a moral imperative requires laws “be chosen as though they should hold as universal laws of nature”. Jeremy Bentham and his student Austin, following David Hume, believed that this conflated the “is” and what “ought to be” problem. Bentham and Austin argued for law’s positivism; that real law is entirely separate from “morality”. Kant was also criticised by Friedrich Nietzsche, who rejected the principle of equality, and believed that law emanates from the will to power, and cannot be labeled as “moral” or “immoral”. There have been several attempts to produce “a universally acceptable definition of law”. In 1972, Baron Hampstead suggested that no such definition could be produced.
Max Weber famously argued that the state is that which controls the monopoly on the legitimate use of force. The military and police carry out enforcement at the request of the government or the courts. The term failed state refers to states that cannot implement or enforce policies; their police and military no longer control security and order and society moves into anarchy, the absence of government. The head of state is apart from the executive, and symbolically enacts laws and acts as representative of the nation. Examples include the President of Germany , the Queen of the United Kingdom , and the President of Austria .
As nationalism grew in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Law Merchant was incorporated into countries’ local law under new civil codes. In contrast to English common law, which consists of enormous tomes of case law, codes in small books are easy to export and easy for judges to apply. EU law is codified in treaties, but develops through de facto precedent laid down by the European Court of Justice. Law is a set of rules that are created and are enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior, with its precise definition a matter of longstanding debate. State-enforced laws can be made by a group legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or established by judges through precedent, usually in common law jurisdictions.
However, the system became overly systematised—overly rigid and inflexible. As a result, as time went on, increasing numbers of citizens petitioned the King to override the common law, and on the King’s behalf the Lord Chancellor gave judgment to do what was equitable in a case. From the time of Sir Thomas More, the first lawyer to be appointed as Lord Chancellor, a systematic body of equity grew up alongside the rigid common law, and developed its own Court of Chancery. At first, equity was often criticised as erratic, that it varied according to the length of the Chancellor’s foot. Over time, courts of equity developed solid principles, especially under Lord Eldon.
John Locke, in his Two Treatises of Government, and Baron de Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws, advocated for a separation of powers between the political, legislature and executive bodies. Their principle was that no person should be able to usurp all powers of the state, in contrast to the absolutist theory of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. Sun Yat-sen’s Five Power Constitution for the Republic of China took the separation of powers further by having two additional branches of government—a Control Yuan for auditing oversight and an Examination Yuan to manage the employment of public officials. In general, legal systems can be split between civil law and common law systems.