Law is a set of rules created by the state which form a framework to ensure a peaceful society. The rules are enforced and sanctions can be imposed when they are broken.
Law encompasses more than just what we might think of as a formal legal system (courts, police, government agencies etc). In fact it includes the whole of social life, including broader concepts such as custom, tradition and community. It is a complex field, and many books have been written with a wide variety of ideas about it.
Oxford Reference provides a comprehensive and authoritative source of definitions, encyclopedic entries and major debates on the nature of law, covering every aspect of the world’s legal systems. Our coverage includes criminal, family, tax and employment laws, as well as international, constitutional and human rights law, with detailed entries on legal terms, processes, institutions and organizations, and a full range of related debates.
We are all aware of the need for a basic level of justice to be available for everyone. We also recognize that there is a need to provide for a certain degree of stability and certainty, so that people know what to expect, and can plan their lives accordingly. We need mechanisms to prevent corruption and oppression, and to enable individuals to collaborate with the state for their own welfare.
All these elements are necessary for a society to function. The concept of law combines them all into one coherent whole and makes it possible to communicate them, so that all participants have a common understanding of the rules they are living by.
The law is the result of political action and the political landscape varies greatly from nation to nation. The most fundamental question is who has the power to make and enforce the law. Each year there are revolts against existing legal-political authority, and aspirations for democratic rule and greater rights for citizens are a recurring theme in politics.
In most countries, legal systems are based on either common or civil law. In “common law” jurisdictions, decisions made by courts are explicitly acknowledged as law on equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process and with regulations issued by the executive branch. The “doctrine of precedent”, or stare decisis, requires that decisions of higher courts bind lower courts and future judges. Civil law remains dominant in countries which were once colonized by continental European nations, such as parts of Africa and Asia, and is also present in some Pacific islands.