What is Law?

Law is the set of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members. Oxford Reference provides concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries that cover all major aspects of the law, from criminal, tax and social security laws to family and employment law and major debates in legal theory.

In most countries, the law is written and voted on by groups of politicians in a legislature (like parliament or congress) that are elected (chosen) by the peoples who are governed. These lawmakers decide the overall framework of laws in a constitution, and they make further laws for specific matters in detail. The law is enforced by police and courts, who punish people who break the rules of the law, for example, by fines or imprisonment.

A few areas of law are regulated by the federal government, while most of it is left to the individual states. Examples of this include copyright, patent and trademark law. Tort law enables people to claim compensation if they are harmed, for instance in an automobile accident or by defamation of character. Other types of law are family, criminal, property and trust law.

Law serves several purposes, including establishing standards and maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. For a discussion of the role of law in society, see legal ethics; and for an examination of its relationship to political structures, see constitutional government; ideology; political party; and political system.