The Concept of Law


Law is the body of rules a society or community adopts to regulate its members’ behavior. These rules are enforced by a controlling authority, typically through penalties. Laws can be made by a group legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive, in the form of decrees and regulations; or established through judicial decisions, referred to as case law. Alternatively, laws may be created by private individuals in legally binding contracts.

Law influences politics, economics, history and culture in many ways. It is a complex subject, and the concept of law is often debated. For example, some people believe that the word ‘law’ should be reserved for the specific system of laws in force in a country or state. Others, however, would argue that ‘law’ is more generally descriptive of any system of rules that governs human behaviour.

The term ‘rule of law’ describes a system of government in which all public and private institutions, including the State itself, are subject to publicly disclosed and equally enforced legal codes and processes. It also requires that core human, property and procedural rights be enshrined in the law.

In most places, there are laws that prohibit certain actions, such as stealing or murder. These laws are often enforced by a criminal justice system with courts and police. However, there are other areas of law that are not criminal in nature but still require compliance, such as employment law or family law.

Some laws are based on principles of fairness and justice, such as the equality of all before the law or the protection of private property. Other laws are designed to keep communities safe, such as by regulating the use of firearms or the sale of alcohol. Still others are aimed at protecting the environment or encouraging good health, such as by setting minimum standards for food or water quality.

The law can also be seen as a way to establish order in a society, by keeping citizens in line and preventing chaos. This is the basis of social control, which is why laws are sometimes controversial. For example, some people think that a law that makes it illegal to steal is immoral because it punishes poor people for something they can’t control.

Other people, however, believe that a law that prevents the theft of children’s toys is just and fair because it allows families to keep their children safe from harm. The debate about the purpose of the law demonstrates how deep and complex the study of law can be. For more about Law, see Oxford Reference’s collection of articles and encyclopedia entries on the subject. The articles are written by experts for researchers at all levels, and provide in-depth coverage of all aspects of the discipline. They cover topics such as international law, business law, family and personal law, taxation law, human rights law, and much more. They are complemented by charts, diagrams and other visual aids.