What is Law?


Law is the system of rules created and enforced by a society or government to regulate behaviour. It is an important discipline, covering a huge range of topics from criminal law and business to family, immigration and social security.

The most basic concept of law is the rule of law, i.e. that the State and private individuals must obey laws which are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, with respect for international human rights standards. This concept is further developed in constitutional law, which sets out the principles of supremacy of the law, equality before the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision making and legal certainty.

More specific subjects include labour law, which outlines the tripartite industrial relationship of employer, employee and trade union; civil procedure – the set of rules that courts must follow as trials and appeals proceed; and evidence law, involving which materials are admissible in court. Other important areas are environmental and land law, the laws governing property ownership; and immigration and citizenship law, which concern a person’s right to work and live in a country and to gain or lose nationality.

There is also an active area of academic debate around the nature and purposes of law, with theories such as utilitarianism reshaping thinking on what should be considered legally binding. Oxford Reference has a wide and authoritative collection of resources on all of these key themes, from concise definitions and in-depth encyclopedic entries to expert commentary and bibliographies.