The Oxford Law Encyclopedia

The Oxford Law Encyclopedia


Law is a system of rules, established by some authority, and recognised as binding on members of a community. It may be written or unwritten, codified or uncodified and covers a vast variety of subjects. In practice laws are based on a combination of sources, including legislation, case law and custom. Law has many functions, but its principal ones are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. A particular society’s laws may be based on religious precepts, such as Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, or on secular ideas like equity and fairness. Those laws may be created and enforced by judges, or compiled from the decisions of a community, as in case law. They can also be based on a combination of methods, such as Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent.

The Law is studied in university departments of law, as part of the social sciences or humanities, and is a field that attracts students from a range of academic disciplines. There are a number of legal journals and periodicals, and there is considerable debate about the nature of law and how it should be created. The legal profession is regulated by statute and governed by a professional body, such as the Bar Council or Law Society, which requires its practitioners to observe certain ethical codes. There are many different careers in the Law, and some people choose to become judges, solicitors or barristers, while others work for the government or private businesses.

A broad spectrum of legal topics are covered by the Law, from the criminal law and civil justice to international affairs, family and labour laws. Moreover, it has a profound influence on the economy and culture of societies. For example, competition law – which traces back to Roman decrees against price fixing and English restraint of trade laws – is used by governments around the world to control businesses that try to artificially distort market prices at the expense of consumer welfare.

In fact, it is difficult to speak of any subject without some reference to the Law. For this reason the Oxford Law Encyclopedia is an essential resource for anyone researching this fascinating and complex area of study. Our comprehensive coverage includes more than 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries across all areas of the Law. These are arranged by subject and further broken down into sub-headings, making it easy to find the information you need. In addition, there are useful charts and timelines to help you get your bearings. Oxford Reference also contains an extensive range of subject-specific articles on the major fields in the Law: