THE NATURE OF LAW: definition, functions, the legal system.
Trying to define law is a bit like the fable of the blind men and the elephant. One of the blind men took hold of the elephant's leg and commented that an elephant is like a log; another grabbed the tail and believed it to be like a rope; and the third ran his hand over the elephant's ear and said he thought it like a fan.
The nature of law is a set of rules which form the pattern of behavior of a given society. The laws with which we have to deal differ from the "laws" of nature which are "rules" derived from observation of the physical universe: for "law" in our sense is normative, pattern-setting, a prescription rather than a description of behavior. Some people think of it as police officers; others as courts; still others as the product of a legislature, a statute. All of these perceptions are at least partially accurate; all are part of a legal system; and all of these and more are part of law as an institution in society.
More commonly, when people speak of law they refer to the rules themselves. "The law says that you must..." is a phrase you often hear. Therefore, the following definition of law is useful: The law is a set of principles, rules, and standards of conduct (1) that have general application in the society, (2) that have been developed by an authority for that society, and (3) for the violation of which the society imposes a penalty.
Law in a broader sense is seen in all societies. In a primitive society, where there is little change over time, the rules of behaviour may not be consciously developed by the leader or representatives of the society; they may have been handed down as custom from earlier generations. But they apply to all of the society, or at least to all of a certain class of people within the society. The penalty for breaking the rules may be decided by the chief or a group of tribal leaders, and it may be carried out by one of them. Perhaps the worst punishment, exclusion, is enforced by the entire group by ignoring the violator.
The basic function of law is keeping the peace. Closely related functions are enforcing standards of conduct and maintaining order and the status quo. These help further another function of law that is especially important to business: facilitating planning. Contract and sales law are the best examples. In making the courts available to enforce contracts, the legal system assures that the parties to contracts will either carry out their promises or be liable for damages. For example, through contracts, a manufacturing company can count on either receiving the raw materials and machinery it has ordered or else getting money from the contracting supplier to cover the extra expense of buying substitutes.
Legal philosophers and legal scholars do not agree on a single definition of the law. The term is sometimes applied to a legal system, as when we speak of "the rule of law". Here we are referring to a political system in which all people within the system, including the most powerful rules, are required to follow the rules called "the law". Furthermore, they are all answerable to a system of courts that applies that body of law. In Ukraine, the Constitution is the foundation of such a legal system.
A legal system involves processes for social control - the framework within which people carry on their activities. It also provides institutions such as legislatures, government agencies, courts, and police forces that provide rules of behaviour and means for enforcing them and for selling disputes.