The Oxford Dictionary of Law

Law is a set of rules established by society and enforced by government that people must follow. This includes rules that protect the individual, such as a law against stealing. Laws can also be created to keep a society peaceful or discourage violence. A legal system can include criminal, administrative, and contract laws, as well as family, environmental, and labour laws. Laws can be made by a group legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or by judges, whose decisions, called precedents, bind lower courts to ensure consistency. Some systems of law allow for alternative ways to resolve disputes, such as arbitration or conciliation.

In addition to regulating the behavior of citizens, law influences the relationship between government and the people, including issues of privacy, equality, and freedom. The law can also limit the power of rulers, who must follow the same rules as everyone else.

The study of law is complex and diverse, with many different theories about its nature and purpose. Nevertheless, all definitions of law imply a set of rules that must be followed. The concept of law is not fixed in time or place: it evolves over the course of history as societies change, with adjustments and justifications from different social and judicial views. Oxford Reference provides more than 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries across this broad discipline—from civil, tax, employment, and family law to international, constitutional, and intellectual property law.

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