What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules that a social or governmental institution creates and enforces to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a topic of long-standing debate, but it often encompasses the concepts of morality, natural justice, and divine will, and it can be enforced by penalties imposed by a controlling authority. Law may be written and enacted by a group legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive, resulting in decrees and regulations; or established through judicial decisions, called case law. In addition, private individuals may create legally binding contracts and adopt alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation.

Law covers a vast range of topics, from the laws of the physical universe to the laws of human society. It is an expansive field that includes not only legislation and the courts, but also academic fields such as criminology, economics, history, and philosophy. Ultimately, law is the foundation of civilized societies and provides stability in their political systems, economic development, and daily lives.

For example, contract law governs the exchange of goods and services; property law defines people’s rights and duties toward their tangible possessions, such as land or vehicles; and criminal law deals with offenses against a state or its citizens, such as homicide or fraud. Moreover, legal terms such as criminal procedure and evidence law specify how courts must act to ensure that a citizen receives a fair trial and hearing.

The law is an incredibly important and complex area of study, and Oxford Reference is proud to provide authoritative and concise entries for every aspect of it. Our comprehensive coverage includes articles on a broad array of subjects, including the law of nations and international law; the history of law and society; legal philosophy; and much more. Our goal is to make this information readily available to researchers at all levels, and we have made every effort to keep our entries clear and user-friendly.

Our extensive range of law titles offers the most authoritative and accessible source of information on the subject available anywhere. With more than 34,000 concise definitions and expert, specialist encyclopedic entries, they are a must-have for anyone studying the law.