What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules created by a state that form a framework to ensure a peaceful society. It is enforced by the state and sanctions can be imposed on those who do not obey. Laws can be made by a group legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or by judges through case law. There are many different ideas about what constitutes a law and scholars have debated the concept of law for centuries.

The field of Law is broad and covers areas such as criminal law, taxation, employment law and human rights. It also encompasses the study of the history of legal systems and theories of the purpose of law.

Laws can be divided into two broad categories: civil and criminal law. Civil law concerns the relationship between private individuals, such as contracts and property ownership. In contrast, criminal laws are designed to punish those who break specific societal or individual rights such as the right to life and liberty.

In the modern world, laws can be made by a legislature through legislation, resulting in statutes; or they can be made by the executive through orders and regulations; or they can be made by judges through case law, resulting in court decisions that become precedent. In some countries, there are also religious laws that are enforced by religious authorities.

Many of the laws that govern people in a given country are contained in a constitution, a legal code or other written documents. These documents can be amended on occasion and the legal system is based on them. Some of the most important laws that have been imposed by governments in recent years are environmental protection and anti-terrorist legislation.

There are some philosophers who argue that the understanding of law is nothing more than power backed by threats and that this concept should be replaced with a belief in morals, which is rooted in a desire to protect others and ourselves. However, most societies do not see their laws as being anything other than an attempt to create a safe and stable environment for all to live in.

Oxford Reference is proud to offer a wide range of law titles that cover the major topics in this discipline. From criminal and public law to family, employment and international law, our expert authors have provided concise definitions and in-depth encyclopedic entries on this area of study for researchers at every level.