Law is a system of rules and regulations that governs the behavior of people within a society. It helps to keep order, protect property, and ensure justice. Individuals who break the law can be punished by the state through a court system. The law can be based on religious beliefs, social customs, or a constitution. There are many different types of laws including administrative, criminal, family, and civil. Oxford Reference provides more than 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries across this broad subject area, covering everything from air and bankruptcy law to family and employment law, and international law to legal philosophy.
In a well-ordered society, disputes and conflicts will still arise. The law provides a way for people to settle these disputes peacefully and fairly. For example, if two people claim ownership of the same piece of land, the courts can decide which one is the real owner. The law also ensures that government officials and police officers act fairly and follow the same rules as everyone else.
The word law can also refer to the people who work in the legal system. Lawyers, for instance, are trained to use the law to defend their clients and win cases. Judges and prosecutors are other important parts of the legal system. The law can also refer to the procedures that must be followed when a case is brought before a judge or jury.
Unlike other disciplines and sciences, the study of law is complex from a methodological perspective. Normative statements in the law are deprived of the causality that is inherent in empirical science (such as the law of gravity) or social science (such as a law of supply and demand). This unique feature makes the study of law more challenging than most other subjects.
Formal sources of law are statutes or legislation and judicial precedent. These are binding on judges when deciding cases. Persuasive sources are not binding but are taken into account when deciding a case, such as foreign judgments, principles of morality or equity, professional opinions, and customs.
The law must be clear, publicized, stable, and applied evenly to all members of the community. It must guarantee human rights, property rights, and contracts. It must provide justice in a timely and efficient manner by representatives and neutrals who are accessible, ethical, independent, and competent. It must be interpreted and enforced by an impartial judiciary. The law must be enforced by a well-trained and adequately funded governmental apparatus that respects the individual. For more on the topic, see censorship; crime and punishment; and police.