5.2.1 Sources of Law

The sources of law vary according to a country’s legal system, with different emphases on legislation, precedent, custom, and religion.

Laws govern people’s behaviour by defining what society expects of them.  They provide the criteria for what forms of coercion can be used to enforce compliance.  According to A Quick Primer on the World’s Legal Systems:

“There are generally considered to be five legal systems in the world today: civil law, common law, customary law, religious law, and mixed legal systems.

…Nations with civil law systems have comprehensive, frequently updated legal codes.

…Common law systems, while they often have statutes, rely more on precedent, judicial decisions that have already been made.

…The laws of customary legal systems are usually unwritten and are often dispensed by elders, passed down through generations.

…Religious legal systems are systems where the law emanates from texts or traditions within a given religious tradition.  [For example, the Quran]

…Mixed legal systems refer to legal systems where two or more of the above …work together.”

The primer included a world map of where these sources of law are applied.

Although laws are a form of governance, and State coercion can be applied, it may also be possible for people to have some influence on the law.  Negotiations to change the law in Britain, America and Europe  – which are the main focus of this book – involve the Political Dimension, which is the subject of the next chapter (6.1.2).

There are three levels of negotiation:

●  If the political system is democratic, the people are negotiating with each other when they elect politicians to the legislature (6.3.2).

●  The politicians negotiate with each other within the legislature.

●  The political systems can allow people to apply pressure to the politicians (6.4.1).

This brief summary does not, though, clarify an important distinction between the different roles of politicians: those in the government of the day and those who make up the legislature.  The separation of these powers is discussed later (5.2.8).


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/521.htm.