Did you know that Denmark, Norway, and Finland were the top countries in the WJP Rule of Law Index rankings in 2020? This shows how strong and vibrant their rule of law execution is. The United States was in the 21st position out of 128 countries, indicating that the US justice system has immense room to improve.
But what is the legal system all about and why does it truly matter? Keep reading to get a simple definition of law, and why law enforcement is crucial in today’s day and age.
What Are the Origins of the Legal System?
The oldest set of written laws known to us is the Code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi, inspired by the God of Justice, Shamash, who handed these laws to him, was the king of Babylon from 1792 BC and 1758 BC.
Interestingly enough, these rules got carved onto huge slabs of stones and placed all over the city so people could see them and know about them. Judges were appointed so they could ensure that these rules were obeyed. Sounds pretty similar to our way of doing things, doesn’t it?
The most detailed legal code of any civilization known to man was that of the Romans. It was written down in 450BC and was called the Twelve Tables. Again, all citizens were expected to know these rules and follow them.
Nowadays most legal systems in the English-speaking world are based on English common law which is in turn based on precedents set by judges early in British history.
Law Defined Briefly
Law has been defined as “a body of rules of action or conduct prescribed by a controlling authority, and having binding legal force. That which must be obeyed and followed by citizens subject to sanctions or legal consequence is a law.” This is from Black’s Law Dictionary, 6th ed., s.v. “law.”
There are many purposes to these laws that are set up by courts and ruling systems, BUT the problem is that they can be quite complicated and hard to understand for the average citizen.
We need law enforcement exactly because a lot of these rules can be hard for people to understand and they might step over them or beyond them, because of this confusion. In addition, we have courts, judges, and the judiciary system because we need to surmise whether the infraction was deliberate, or unintentional.
For example, in Minnesota, any game to capture a greased or oiled pig is illegal. If you are a visitor to Minnesota and end up playing this game, you commit a crime without realizing that this act was illegal. This is where law enforcement would take you in, but the courts and justice system would release you because you were not at fault (truly).
What Does the System of Rules Dictate?
There are four primary purposes of law and the legal system. Let’s define them briefly below.
Every society and civilization has its own sets of rules on what is acceptable behavior and what is not. For example, two men holding hands and kissing is illegal in Nigeria and subject to punishment, but it’s extremely common and accepted in Canada.
Is one society right and the other wrong? Absolutely not. Each society, based on the paradigms set by its culture, has its own way of seeing the world.
But almost all societies around the world will deem harming another individual or killing them as unacceptable under most circumstances.
When lots of humans get together and live in close quarters, the need to maintain order will probably emerge. The law provides order under society’s guidelines. For example, there are rules about wearing seatbelts when driving in vehicles, which enforce good driving behavior and prevent extreme injury when in an accident.
Law enforcement and the justice system enforces laws and ensures that everyone follows them as closely as possible.
This again goes back to the idea that when lots of humans live together, there are bound to be disputes among them. It could be as simple as fighting over a parking spot, to as serious as fighting over property and land disputes.
Everyone in a society will have differing wants, needs, desires, values, and views. The court system ensures that such disputes arising from differing opinions can get resolved as quickly as possible.
Practicing Liberties and Rights
Everyone in a society has a set of inviolable rights and liberties. For example, freedom of speech is a huge one in the United States. Everyone has the right to speak their mind, without fear of repercussion or retribution. That’s what makes America a great country to live in.
But if someone feels like their liberties or rights are being stamped upon, they can take this to the court system to ensure that they get fair compensation. For example, if you felt like you deserve workers’ compensation for some injury sustained at work, but your employer denies you, you can hire a workers’ compensation attorney to help you get what’s due to you.
What Is the Rule of Law?
Interestingly enough, rule of law isn’t the same as the law. A rule of law is a system of rules that governs the laws. It’s the legal principle that laws should govern the nation, rather than arbitrary rules and principles slapped together by random folks.
It’s the agreement by the citizens of a nation that they agree to be bound by the laws of the nation. This agreement is crucial, otherwise, chaos would reign as citizens disagreeing with the legal system do whatever they wish, as they wish, without any care for anyone else.
In the United States, the rule of law system got established in the U.S. Constitution over 200 years ago. As you can imagine, it’s something that binds us as a nation and keeps us going in a positive direction.
The Legal System Is In Constant Limbo
The great thing about the legal system is that it’s never stagnant or standing still, but forever transmuted and shaped by the changing views of society and its citizens. For example, women weren’t allowed to own land just a few decades ago, but now they are. It’s a sign that we still have a long way to go with the legal system.