What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules a country or community recognizes as governing the actions of its members. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways, and acts as a mediator of relations between people. Oxford Reference offers expert-level coverage of this hugely influential area, with concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries covering all areas of law, from criminal law, taxation, social security and asylum to employment, family and property law. It also covers key legal processes and institutions such as courts, lawyers, judges and police forces.

Different countries have different systems of law, with the specifics influenced by factors such as history, connections with other countries and adherence to international standards. The general philosophy of law is reflected in a constitutional constitution, which contains the main laws of a country, including the division of power between different branches of government. Other major sources of law include legislative statutes, executive regulations and the case law of a court, where decisions of higher courts bind lower courts in similar cases.

The purpose of law is to control behaviour and ensure that everyone follows the same rules. This is done by preventing crime and punishing those who break the rules. It also guides other aspects of life, such as property ownership and maternity leave.

Lawyers are professionals who advise clients and represent them in court. They are known as attorneys in the United States and solicitors or barristers in the United Kingdom. A law student is a person studying to become an attorney.

Different people have different ideas about the nature of law, with some arguing that it should incorporate morality. Philosophers such as John Austin and Jeremy Bentham have promoted utilitarian theories, while Jean-Jacques Rousseau promoted a natural philosophy of law that reflects innate human principles.

In practice, there are many different types of law, ranging from personal injury to trust law. Labour law, for example, covers the tripartite relationship between worker, employer and trade union, while intellectual property law protects the rights to artistic works such as music or literature, and trademark laws cover the rights to names and logos that people use in their business.

There is also a significant amount of administrative law, which covers the way in which governments manage their affairs, including taxation and the running of hospitals. Tort law is the legal system that allows people to claim compensation if they have been injured or their possessions have been damaged by others. In addition, there is a growing body of case law, where the courts decide how to apply previous cases in new situations. This has led to significant changes in the way in which law is interpreted and applied. Legal systems also differ in how they deal with the relationship between the state and its citizens, with varying views on whether it is appropriate to extend the state’s powers to regulate some activities, such as traffic enforcement. This is a major topic of debate in political philosophy.