The Oxford Encyclopedia of Law


The law is a system of rules that regulates the conduct of a community and is enforced through penalties. It influences politics, economics, history and society in various ways. The term is also a field of study and practice for lawyers and jurists.

The earliest records of the word date to before the 1000s. The word may have been derived from the Old Norse lagi, meaning “laying order” or “fixed tune.”

Many legal systems are established to keep people in line by enforcing certain rules and values. A common example is a community’s criminal laws, which punish people who break the rules by punishing them with prison time or fines. Other examples of a community’s laws include civil rights laws, which protect the rights and freedoms of people in a particular place.

Different countries have different systems of law, depending on the culture and values of a specific country. Some, such as the United States, have a common law system, where judges make laws based on their decisions in individual cases. Other nations have a civil law system, where judges follow written code when making decisions in a case.

A common law judge’s decision is referred to as case law, while the judicial codes in a civil law system are called statutes. These different systems of law have led to significant differences in the way laws are created and enforced.

There are a number of law definitions, each with its own merits and weaknesses. Justice Holmes, for instance, defined law as a social tool for control. This is a useful definition because it recognizes that laws do not exist merely to be proclaimed, recognized or enforced; they serve their purpose as tools of social engineering by satisfying social wants and needs.

Other scholars have used the concept of law as a means to describe a set of principles that governs the actions of an individual or an organization, public or private, or even the state itself. These principles include respect for the rule of law, accountability to the law, equal enforcement of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making and legal transparency.

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Law includes concise and detailed definitions, as well as in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries on the law of specific countries, topics or issues. It also covers major debates in law theory and is written by trusted experts for researchers at every level. The articles are complemented by helpful charts and chronologies. The OELD is an essential resource for anyone interested in the study of law.