Law is the set of rules that a society recognizes and enforces as regulating the actions of its members. It is a broad term that can refer to any system of laws that exists, whether it be a country’s legal system or the legal field as a profession (such as a lawyer). The law may also be used in a political sense to denote a particular political regime or party. Law is a fundamental aspect of any modern society, and it is necessary for economic development, social stability, and political freedom.
The most common use of the word law is to refer to a specific set of rules that a government makes and which its citizens must obey or face punishment. For example, if someone breaks the law against stealing, they could be fined or sent to jail. Laws are usually based on the idea of a fair system that treats everyone equally. There are exceptions to this rule, such as when a law is racist or discriminatory, but the general principle is that laws must be applied evenly and fairly.
For more information on the legal system and its relationship to politics, see the articles on constitutional law; constitution, ideology; political party; and law, philosophy of. The law is also important in terms of social justice, and the articles on censorship; crime and punishment; and war explain the role of the law in limiting free speech and restricting military action.
There are different types of laws, depending on the culture and history of a place. Some legal systems, such as those in China, India, or Japan, are based on Confucian principles and focus on the role of the state. Other legal systems are based on Roman or canon law, and some have been modified by local custom and culture over the years. Civil law systems, which are found in most countries, are based on concepts and categories from Roman law, with some influence from canon law.
A person who studies law is called a lawyer, and there are many careers in this field. In addition to advising people about the law and representing them in court, lawyers can work in policymaking or teach. The study of law encompasses a wide range of topics, from the study of historical and contemporary legal systems to legal philosophy and theory. Oxford Reference provides more than 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries on this very broad discipline. These are written by trusted experts and designed to help researchers at every level find the information they need quickly and easily. In addition, the site offers links to major legal websites and organizations, as well as a wide range of other helpful resources. These features make Oxford Reference the ideal starting point for research on Law.