The Development of Law

Law is a special framework which governs the relationships between people and their environment. In broad terms, it is the set of rules which a society establishes to ensure a peaceful and prosperous existence for all its members. It also describes the ways in which such laws are enforced and the penalties imposed when they are broken.

Laws may be created by a group legislature, resulting in statutes; by an executive authority, creating decrees and regulations; or by judges through precedent, producing common law. Private individuals may also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements. These arrangements are often used as alternatives to traditional legal proceedings and provide a way for parties to resolve disputes without going to court.

The law is a complex and powerful system. It is a foundation of all social interaction, providing rules for fair play and preventing abuses of power by individuals or groups. It defines core human, procedural and property rights. Laws are essential for democracy, and the lack of such laws can lead to dictatorships or totalitarian states. The development of law is a long and difficult process, with many issues and arguments along the way.

Despite its complexity, law is relatively straightforward to understand. Typically, it can be described in two categories: natural and codified. Natural law is a general principle, and is defined by Holmes as “a flowing process in which a participant’s probability estimates are updated as experience flows in.”5

It is based on the idea that certain actions are wrong or harmful, and it provides guidance for people to identify those things and take corrective action. This is not always easy, as it requires a high level of moral awareness.

In contrast, codified law is created by the state and acts as a specific rule or guideline. The development of codified law is a complicated process. It begins with an initial draft, which is then negotiated between the various stakeholders before it is finally passed into law.

Generally, it is the result of an extended process that includes debate and discussion about what is right or wrong, what is fair and unfair and what can be expected from different groups of people. This involves balancing competing interests, and is often very controversial.

The final version of a law may be significantly altered from its original form, depending on the context in which it is applied. For example, the original draft might be a very harsh punishment for a crime, but if there is a strong public outcry over the punishment then it will likely be changed to something more suitable. This is often referred to as ‘legislative activism’.