Law is the system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. It is a wide field that encompasses legal history, philosophy, sociology and economic analysis. Oxford Reference offers over 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries on this complex discipline, covering everything from criminal law to the law of contracts. We also cover major debates in law, as well as broader themes like the nature of law and its relationship to justice.
The most basic tenets of law are that no one may be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, property, correspondence or business or to attacks on his honour and reputation. These basic principles form the foundation of most civil laws, which, in turn, often reflect or incorporate cultural, religious or philosophical precepts. Religious laws, such as Jewish Halakhah or Islamic Sharia, for example, are based on scripture and act as a source of law through interpretation (qiyas), consensus (ijma) and precedent.
Civil law systems, which are found on all continents and cover about 60% of the world’s population, are based on Roman law concepts, categories and rules – often supplemented or modified by custom or culture. These systems are characterized by a logical and dynamic taxonomy, an emphasis on cooperation and a willingness to adapt.
Common law, by contrast, places the decisions of a judge or barrister on an equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process and regulations issued by the executive branch, based on the principle that similar cases should reach similar conclusions. This is known as the doctrine of precedent, or stare decisis.