The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Law


Law is the system of rules that a particular nation or community recognises as regulating the actions of its citizens. It may be written or unwritten, a body of custom and policy, or a set of judicial decisions. Those who study the law are called lawyers.

A legal system provides a number of vital social functions: it keeps the peace, maintains the status quo, preserves individual rights, protects minorities against majorities, promotes social justice and provides for orderly social change. The way in which a nation implements these functions differs from country to country, and the effectiveness of different systems is often debated. For example, the laws of a totalitarian state might keep the peace, but they also oppress minority groups and prevent dissent. On the other hand, an authoritarian regime might fail to maintain the status quo, but its laws can provide some degree of protection for individual rights.

The development of law is a complex process. The drafting of statutes, for example, can involve lengthy studies and hearings over a period of years. Moreover, once an act is passed it can take a very long time for its provisions to become fully understood and applied in court cases. The law is thus an ever-changing entity, subject to interpretation and reinterpretation.

For this reason, studying the law can be very rewarding for those who enjoy working in a constantly changing environment. Lawyers will be involved in a huge range of cases which can pose all sorts of questions. Should cloning of humans and animals be permitted? Should there be limits on free speech? Should pollution be made illegal?

A good understanding of the law will enable people to make informed choices about how best to live their lives. People with strong analytical skills and a keen interest in the way in which society operates will find it easy to understand and apply the laws of the land.

Oxford Reference offers a comprehensive collection of specialist encyclopaedia entries on law covering all the major areas of this vast and varied discipline. These include: agency; air law; bankruptcy; carriage of goods; contract; criminal law; family law; intellectual property law; maritime law; property law (including real and personal); and trust law. The articles are written by trusted experts, and each entry includes concise definitions, and links to related terms and entries in other dictionaries and guides. This makes them ideal for students and researchers across a wide range of subjects. They are also useful for general readers who wish to have access to expert legal information quickly and conveniently.