What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating its members’ behaviour. It includes all the legislation, customs and practices that make up the legal system, as well as the judicial processes through which the law is enforced. It covers a wide range of issues, from property and contracts to human rights and criminal justice, with many sub-fields of law having their own distinct specialisms.

Law aims to ensure that society is ordered and secure. It prevents violent conflict by settling disputes through nonviolent means and allows people to live together peacefully. It also protects individuals’ freedom of speech, religion and property. Governments, police and public officials must all operate within the confines of the law. In addition, the law provides a framework for regulating businesses and for taxation.

A well-functioning legal system should be clear, publicly available, stable and consistent and provide fair and equal treatment for all citizens. It must protect fundamental human and property rights and enable the development of a flourishing economy with a high standard of living. The process by which law is adopted, administered, adjudicated and enforced must be accessible, efficient and fair and the representatives and neutrals who administer it should reflect the demographic makeup of the communities they serve.

In modern times, legal system accountability is a crucial issue. The extension of state power through the military, policing and bureaucracy poses unique problems that earlier writers like Locke or Montesquieu could not have foreseen.

Moreover, the nature of laws is continually changing to reflect new needs and circumstances. Laws must be able to adapt to the evolving world around them by creative jurisprudence, with clearly expressed laws and rights, advance disclosure of rules, and flexibility in interpretation and application.

Law is also about the process by which judges and other legal professionals are educated, trained and regulated. For example, there are arguments about whether lawyers should be allowed to express their political views in court and about how much of a role judges should play in interpreting and applying the law to individual cases.

Regardless of the specific details, all law students and scholars must understand how a legal system works in order to analyse it, criticize it or develop alternatives. To do so requires a broad understanding of the law as a whole, which is why Oxford Reference offers more than 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries covering all aspects of law. This includes criminal law, tax and social security law, human rights, international law and major debates in legal theory. It also provides detailed information on individual countries and their laws, accompanied by charts and chronologies. This enables you to gain a deeper appreciation of how the law works in the real world and how it has evolved over time. It will also enable you to research specific topics more easily. Our comprehensive coverage of the law makes it an essential resource for any student or scholar of the subject.