Law is a body of rules developed and enforced by governmental or civic institutions to govern behavior, with the precise definition a debated matter of customary law. In the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that law is a human institution actions and reactions to events that tend to make a world better place. It has also been differentially defined as the science of civil law and the discipline of justice. The practice of law was founded on the need for individual accountability to each other and to society, and it is based on respect for the rule of law and the support of trust between citizens.
Historically, the development of the courts into what it is today is a long and gradual process. The spread of laws from country to country, and indeed throughout the world, began when the need for law enforcement became obvious at the onset of the Common Era. As the members of indigenous peoples’ communities took on the role of government representatives, they brought with them a common law tradition that framed their rights and responsibilities. In the years that followed, European and Native American tribes took on the role of settlers, and, over time, laws regulating behavior in commercial and labor activities were shaped largely by common law. However, even within the boundaries of the nation itself, and even among different ethnic groups, there have been changes in law that have swept away traditional understandings of how law should function.
One example is the rise and expansion of modern day criminal law. Under the common law, defense lawyers, constables, police officers, magistrates, and others who arrest people were considering not judges but merely public servants. Criminal defense lawyers, whose work is to argue criminal charges and cases before the courts, have always been viewed by many people as an elite class with divine right to rule. They were closely allied to aristocratic families whose wealth came from being a member of the law. In fact, many members of the legal elite used their position of authority to suppress opposition to their rule, which is prevalent throughout much of Europe.
This elite class of lawyers became the object of derision and ridicule for many lower class citizens. As a result, their rights to maintain property were taken away, their privileges to hold office were limited, and they were forced to render honest services only in return for food and shelter. The same elite class of lawyers who were oppressing the lower classes also happened to be the most powerful and richest ones in the country. Many of them amassed great wealth during their service to the public, and they used their power to shape the laws that would benefit them and keep the masses in bondage. The most extreme of these laws was the French Revolution of 1794. When the French bourgeoisie rose up against the aristocratic government, demanding change from the throne, the government responded by removing the power of the House of Commons.
As a result of this move, all law was now under the control of the Privy Council, a small body that had the power and authority to rule over the law. This elite group of lawyers then gained absolute control of the law making body by majority vote. The ruling elite had changed the law to serve their will and to protect themselves and their wealth. All laws that infringe on the rights of the people are struck down by the courts; but the common law continues to prosper.
It is not uncommon today to hear the phrase “common law” being used. However, most people do not realize that the “common law” was incorporated into our country by our forefathers. They made the common law last through the years and that is why our ancestors have such high credit among Americans for their contributions to the common law. Many people do not even know that they are acting in accordance with the common law, or how the courts are interpreting that law.
In addition to wealth creation, our ancestors also made it very difficult for the government to do anything, since they ruled by law. Because of this, the courts are generally very inefficient when trying to process cases against people who are guilty of breaking the law. Many people will break the law in order to be safe, but the government is often powerless to do anything about them because the courts are too busy making money.
If we want to keep the government honest, and if we want to keep the common law alive so that the people can continue to prosper, we must not make it harder for the government to do its job. By making life harder for the government, we are hindering its ability to serve us. Therefore, it is up to us, the people, to make sure that the courts are doing their job.