Law is the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members. It encompasses a vast range of subjects, from crime and business agreements to family and employment issues. Oxford Reference provides comprehensive coverage of this broad discipline, with concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries. The content is designed to support researchers at every level, from students to professionals.
Unlike empirical sciences, such as the laws of gravity or the equations of thermodynamics, law is normative rather than descriptive. The concept of a law in this sense refers to an undisputed statement about what people ought or should not do. Laws can be enacted to promote certain values, or protect certain rights or interests, but they are generally not defined in terms of the underlying causes and effects.
The law is a complex phenomenon, with many different aspects and varying degrees of influence on the social and economic structure of nations. While legal systems differ greatly between and within countries, they also share some features based on historically accepted justice ideals. Legal systems can be classified into groups or patterns, such as common law, civil law, and religious law.
There are four principal purposes of the law: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Some legal systems may serve one or more of these goals more effectively than others. For example, an authoritarian regime may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it might also oppress minorities or political opponents.
Most of the time, a law is a rule established by a government that its citizens must follow. For instance, it is against the law to steal, so if you are caught breaking this rule, you could face punishment such as jail time. Other laws are intended to protect individual rights and interests, such as copyright protection or privacy protection. Some of these laws are based on principles of social justice, such as fairness and equality, while others are aimed at specific groups or individuals, such as immigrants or women.
The law can cover a wide range of subjects, from labour law to tax law and even space law. The law is also used to regulate utilities and services, such as electricity, gas, water, or communications. Laws about these services usually involve a tripartite industrial relationship between employer, worker and trade union, and may include collective bargaining regulation or the right to strike. Criminal and civil procedure laws govern how trials and hearings are conducted, ensuring that citizens have access to a fair and impartial justice system. The law can also relate to evidence, such as which materials are admissible in court cases. There is also a body of law that governs the practices of the legal profession, which must be regulated to ensure that lawyers are competent and ethical. This includes the ability to pass a bar examination, the qualifications required to become a lawyer, and the procedures by which they are trained and constituted in office.