The Oxford Reference Law Collection

Law is the system of rules a society or government creates to govern itself and its activities, enforceable by penalties. Law can be a powerful tool to keep order and promote justice. However, a law that is too restrictive can limit freedom and hinder innovation. The framers of the United States Constitution understood this risk and created a structure for law known as the separation of powers, which ensures that one branch of government cannot become too powerful, and can be subject to review by another.

In general, laws serve four primary purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Some laws are based on natural, ethical or religious principles; others are imposed through force or coercion. The precise definition of law is a matter of ongoing debate.

The legal field is very broad and encompasses a range of subjects, from criminal and civil procedure to administrative law, property law and constitutional law. The study of law can also be applied to fields such as international and human rights law, which are concerned with how the law applies internationally and to individuals who are not citizens of a particular country.

While the concept of law is generally understood, there are many differences in how laws are enacted and enforced across the world. For example, in some countries such as the United States, law is primarily derived from statutes passed by legislatures and codified into the Federal Code; in other nations, such as Japan, a body of case law governing legal issues exists instead of a code of laws.

As a result of these varying systems, there are a wide variety of opinions about the nature of law and its proper role in society. Some scholars have viewed law as a way to control people, while others see it as an important social institution that protects freedom and prevents overreaching by a central authority.

The Oxford Reference Law Collection offers concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries on all aspects of law, covering the full spectrum of legal subjects and topics. Written by experts and aimed at researchers of every level, this comprehensive collection provides authoritative content on the major terms, concepts, processes and organization of law at all levels of jurisdiction. This includes domestic and foreign law, the major areas of the law, such as family law, tax law, business law and criminal law, and significant debates in legal theory.

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