The Oxford Guide to Law


Law is the set of rules that a society recognises as regulating its members’ actions. It includes everything from criminal, civil and administrative law to contracts, company, family, property and employment laws as well as major debates in legal theory. Oxford Reference covers all aspects of this broad subject with concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries written by trusted experts for researchers at every level.

Law has become an area of intense interest and scholarly study, drawing on areas as diverse as history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. It is often viewed as a source of ethical and moral authority. Nonetheless, it has significant limitations, not least that its content is not empirically verifiable and thus it cannot impose behaviours which are impossible to achieve, or to force people to act against their wills.

The law can be broken down into three broad categories, although these overlap and intertwine: legal systems; legal practice; and law and justice. Legal systems are the institutions and processes by which law is created, administered and enforced. This includes the structure of courts, government departments, agencies and regulatory bodies. It also includes the custom and practice of the legal profession and the social structures that form its basis. Legal practice involves the work of lawyers and other legal professionals in advising people about the law and representing them in court cases or in securing their rights. It also includes the professions of judging and prosecuting.

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