What is Law?


Law is the set of social rules a society or nation recognizes as regulating people’s behavior. It may be enforced by the state through a system of courts, resulting in statutes or judgments; by individuals, in contracts or other agreements; or by religious institutions, as in the case of Jewish and Islamic halakha and Christian canon law. The precise definition of law has been the subject of much debate. One prominent view is that it is a body of rules created by human beings and enforced by a group. Another is that it refers to a natural process, like gravity or entropy, which always has the same effect.

Despite these differing views, most legal systems share certain characteristics. They contain a system of courtrooms and judges, and a set of rules about what evidence is admissible in a trial or appeal. Most also contain a constitution that explains the principles by which a nation’s laws are shaped and enforced.

The purpose of law is to control behaviour, protect society, and promote equality, among other things. In nations ruled by authoritarian governments, law may be used to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, and enforce social change. In contrast, the law in democratic and constitutional states can be used to protect individual rights, prevent discrimination against minorities, preserve the environment, and ensure economic justice.

In modern countries, the law is primarily controlled by a legislative branch of government, such as a parliament or congress, elected by the citizens. This creates laws that can be amended or repealed through referendums and other procedures. In addition, a judiciary branch is usually established to resolve people’s disputes and determine whether a person charged with a crime is guilty. Judges interpret the facts of a case and decide how to apply the law, and juries usually determine guilt or innocence. Typically, the highest courts in a country have the power to remove laws that are unconstitutional.

The study of law is complex and varied, with different legal systems influenced by the culture, history, and politics of their respective regions. Oxford Reference offers a wide range of content on this field, from comprehensive encyclopedic entries to concise definitions and specialist dictionaries. Topics covered include contract law; tort law; employment law; property law; and criminal and civil procedure. The law is also impacted by political philosophy, such as the ideas of the philosophies of utilitarianism and libertarianism. For further reading, see: