What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules and regulations created by a government or other authority that governs the actions of citizens in a country. Laws provide a framework to ensure peace and order, set punishments for breaking the rules and generally define a person’s rights and duties. In addition to establishing standards, the law protects citizens by setting boundaries for those in power.

Legal systems differ greatly from one country to the next. Some countries have a very strict code of laws, with few exceptions, which are strictly enforced and punish those who violate them. Other countries have a more loose system of laws, with less rigorous enforcement and more room for interpretation. Ultimately, the success of a society lies in whether there is respect for the law and for the people who follow it.

A large part of the law relates to specific areas, such as:

Air law refers to how airplanes can be flown and what happens when they crash. Banking and financial law lays down minimum standards of capital that banks must hold, as well as rules about best practice for investment and insurance. In some areas, such as family law, the law applies at both the federal and state levels. In others, such as aviation or railroad law, a very small number of federal statutes coexist with a larger body of state law.

Other areas of the law relate to a specific grouping of citizens, such as the right to asylum or the rights of children in divorce proceedings. Property law defines how land, money and possessions can be owned and transferred. Biolaw is the intersection of the law with the sciences. Criminal law and civil procedure concern the rules that a court must follow as it hears a case.

The principle of a rule of law is that it must be universally applied to all members of a society, regardless of their social class or wealth. For this reason, laws should be as clear and as unambiguous as possible. However, this ideal is not always achieved and there are many debates over the role of the law and its application.

Oxford Reference is proud to offer an expansive collection of specialist encyclopedic entries on the law in all its forms around the world. Written by trusted experts, this authoritative reference helps researchers at every level to understand the complex issues surrounding the law. From criminal law, tax and social security law to family and employment law and major debates in legal theory. Each entry offers concise definitions, background information, charts and tables to help them make sense of this vast subject area. This authoritative source of legal knowledge will be indispensable to anyone with an interest in this fascinating area of study.