Law is a system of rules that people and societies develop to regulate their behaviour. These can include laws on crime, business agreements and social relationships. The system is governed by the courts, which are a group of judges and other specialists who interpret the rules and apply them to cases.
Legal systems vary across the world. Some are based on common law; others use civil law. In both, the law is enshrined in statutes adopted by legislative bodies, and decisions by judicial bodies are recognized as law on equal footing with these statutes. In some jurisdictions, the “doctrine of precedent” (or stare decisis) means that a decision by one court binds all courts in the system to make similar decisions in future cases.
In a well-ordered society, the law ensures that everybody behaves according to the same set of rules. This makes it possible for everyone to get along without having to fight. It also helps to prevent and resolve disputes between individuals.
It’s important for a country to have a strong and effective legal system, and to have laws that are fair and transparent. It also helps to protect citizens and the economy from unfair or dangerous practices.
There are four universal principles that underpin the rule of law: justice, equality, integrity and transparency. These are reflected in the way the legal system is run, and its processes by which it is administered, adjudicated and enforced.
These are based on principles of human rights, and the need for accountability, fairness, and efficiency. They are also rooted in the traditions of many cultures and civilizations.
They are embodied in the Constitution of a country, which establishes its principles and defines its rights, including those of individual citizens and members of a community. They are codified, published, and enforceable by the government through legislation, executive decrees and regulations, and by the courts.
Those who write or pass these laws are called legislators, and those who administer them are called magistrates or attorneys. Legislators write laws in state or federal legislatures, and they can be rewritten or repealed by the government.
The law can be passed by a legislature or executive, or it can be created by courts based on precedent and written or tacit agreement. These are normally the two ways of creating laws in a common law jurisdiction, though private individuals can also create legally binding contracts.
It is a complex and dynamic discipline. Its subject areas range from criminal and tax law to family and employment law, and international trade. Oxford Reference provides authoritative, accessible information on these and other aspects of this wide-ranging field, covering all major terms and concepts with in-depth specialist encyclopedic entries.
These include property law, which governs ownership and possession of land and things attached to it. It concerns mortgages, rental agreements, licences, covenants and easements and the statutory systems for land registration. It also includes regulations on the use of personal property, such as intellectual property, company law, trusts and commercial law.