The Oxford Guide to Law

Law is a body of rules that regulates human behavior within a community and that is enforced by a controlling authority through the imposition of penalties. It is an area of study that encompasses many different fields.

Oxford Reference offers authoritative, accessible guides to the major concepts and terms in this field of study. Our law entries cover areas such as criminal and civil law, family and property law, tax law, constitutional law, labor law, international law, and many more. They offer concise definitions and encyclopedic entries written by experts.

Some countries, like the United States, employ a common law system, which relies on decisions made by judges in trials and compiled into case laws, while others, such as Japan, use a civil code system. Regardless of their differing methodologies, both types of legal systems serve similar purposes. The primary functions of law are to set standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect the rights of citizens and their liberties and property.

The development of law is a complex process. It is influenced by social needs and desires, political philosophy and economic interests. Roscoe Pound, a famous 20th-century scholar on the subject, argued that law is predominantly a tool of social engineering. For example, he proposed that law establishes morality and coerces people to conform to those standards. This is a view that is still being debated, even in our own time. See also law, philosophical view; criminal law; jurisprudence; legal science.