Law is a set of rules created by the state that form a framework to ensure a peaceful society. If they are broken there are mechanisms for enforcement and sanctions can be imposed.
Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways and acts as a mediator between people. It is generally categorized as civil law, where a central body codifies and consolidates laws, and common law, where judges decide cases according to their interpretation of previous court decisions (called precedent). Religious laws play an important role in some communities and are known as Sharia law.
The concept of law is complex and has sparked much debate throughout history. In modern times, there are a number of schools of thought on what defines law, including positivist, interpretivist and naturalist views.
Despite the fact that different cultures have varying views about what constitutes law, all legal systems agree on certain basic principles. These include a code of conduct, the right to due process, and a separation of powers. The law also has a social dimension, and there is often a perception of justice being done when a crime is committed.
A key component of the legal system is the judiciary, which includes judges and judicial officers, as well as support staff. The judiciary is a branch of the government that makes a decision on behalf of citizens in a dispute, either by determining whether a statute or Constitutional provision is constitutional or not, or by deciding the outcome of a criminal or civil case.
Some courts have concurrent jurisdiction, where they share authority for deciding a case with other courts. The jurisdiction of a court is determined at the time that the case is filed in that court.
Another important aspect of the legal system is a record kept by each court, which is used to decide future cases based on past decisions. The record contains the transcript of a trial and other relevant documents such as police reports, witness statements and other evidence.
The judicial system also has a variety of specialized staff members, including prosecutors, public defenders and victim advocates. These employees provide valuable services to the legal community and the community at large.
The study of law encompasses a wide range of topics, from the basic principles of a nation’s constitution and statutes to major debates in the field of legal theory. Oxford Reference provides over 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries covering all aspects of this broad subject area. Our law content covers everything from criminal, tax, and family and employment law to international and human rights issues, with comprehensive coverage of both the foundations of legal practice as well as cutting edge theories. Each entry is written by a trusted expert, with cross-referencing to related articles where appropriate, providing you with the information you need to understand and research law at all levels. Our Law content is available online, on mobile apps, in print and in our library catalogues.