Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, with scholars across the world researching and debating a variety of approaches to understanding law. However, it is generally agreed that law is a set of rules and a system of enforcement to ensure individuals or communities adhere to the will of the state. This will usually be enshrined in a constitution, either written or tacit, and enforceable through the courts. Laws may be made by a collective legislature through statutes, or established by judges through case law (which is the basis of common law jurisdictions). Individuals can also create legally binding contracts and agreements.
A key element of any legal system is the rule of law, which refers to a principle in which laws are publicly promulgated, evenly and independently enforced, and are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. This also requires measures to ensure the supremacy of law, equality before the law and accountability to the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, and legal certainty and transparency.
The study of law is an essential part of the modern world and raises fundamental questions concerning fairness, equity and justice. It is the subject of a wide range of academic fields, including legal history, philosophy and economic analysis.
Oxford Reference provides a comprehensive range of specialist encyclopedic entries on all areas of law, covering major concepts, terms and processes and highlighting the main issues and debates. The collection covers everything from criminal law, taxation and social security law to civil rights, family law and employment law. It includes a wealth of expert definitions, complemented by charts and chronologies where appropriate.
A word that may be added to a dictionary entry for Law is “legal term”. These words are often used in everyday speech, but are sometimes formally defined in dictionaries and glossaries. A useful way to understand the terminology of legal terms is to consider the following definitions:
Examples of such terms include a capital offense – a crime punishable by death; inculpatory evidence – proof that a defendant committed the alleged crime; in forma pauperis – permission granted to sue without paying court fees on the grounds of poverty; and the judgment – the official court decision finally determining the respective rights and claims of the parties in a lawsuit.
Law is a complex and largely uncharted area of study, with many different books and articles published on the topic each providing differing opinions and definitions of law. It is important to note, however, that even though the precise definition of law is a matter for debate, what is not disputed is the importance of it to society. A society that does not have the ability to enforce its laws will quickly lose its stability and may collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. This is why it is so vital to protect and defend the rule of law in every country.