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Development of law

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Development of law

The oldest legal system we know of is the Egyptian system developed around 3000 BC, elements of which were still in force under the Roman occupation three thousand years later; the most complete early system is the Code of Hamurabi, operative in Babylon (Iraq) in about 1750 BC. However, the likelihood is that primitive legal systems existed much longer ago than that.


Law in primitive societies

Even in primitive tribal societies with no Parliament and no courts there was some sort of law, usually based on ancient custom and the authority of the chief, the elders or the religious leader, and often backed by the supposed commands and wrath of the tribal gods.  A victim or his family with the approval of the tribe avenged wrongs against individuals, such as murder, theft, adultery, or failure to repay a debt.  Wrongs against the tribe as a whole were met with group sanctions including ridicule and hostility, and sometimes the ritual sacrifice or expulsion of the wrongdoer.


Recognisable states, the growth of Roman Law

Tribal societies gradually evolved into territorial societies, and states of a recognisably modern kind began to emerge. Each of these states developed its own legal system, some of which had a lasting influence: Roman law in particular remained important for many centuries, and many English universities still teach it today. It is the principle source of law in Scotland and Europe.


As society develops so does the role of law

As the modern society developed the people formed larger groups, towns were formed, governmental structures emerged, and modern law began to be necessary.   Cicero (Roman philosopher born 106 BC) in "De Republica" made important contributions regarding natural law that were overshadowed by later jurists.   


Middle Ages

Following the chaos of varying provincial and local customs that had taken form during the Middle Ages national legislation and national codes were introduced.


The state’s involvement in the law

Until comparatively recently government was seldom concerned in matters affecting the freedom of the individual outside the realms of criminal law, taxation and, to a lesser extent, property rights.


The growing complexity of life has necessarily led governments, to intervene in many aspects of our daily lives. Legislation now authorises direct executive intervention in our education, our food, our transport, our health, our use of our property, what is shown on television or broadcast, and a host of other areas.


Legal systems, morality and justice

Now parliament and government produce large amounts of formal law.


The judiciary remains important because of the common law that they develop.


Social pressures such as condemnation of the culprit and sympathy enforce moral obligations for the victim, reinforced by religious teaching and by the media.


The function and role of law are dynamic

There are differing views of how law maintains social order, provides for the settlement of disputes, upholds morality, equality of subjects and by social engineering promotes the smooth running of society.  


The economic perspective and fundamental human rights are currently major factors in the function and role of society today in a way that they have never been before.


The study of law, has taxed the minds of practitioners and theorist alike for many centuries.   Problems such as law as legislation, law as in the common law, law as in natural law, law as in custom, law as the psychology of human action, and today law as a function of constitutional change, make defining what law is, as difficult as ever.

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