The law is the set of rules a society or government develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. The term is also used to refer to the people who work within this system: judges, lawyers and police officers.
The precise nature of the laws of a particular society is a matter of ongoing debate and is often described as both a science and an art. A legal theory that aims to define the essential characteristics of a well-made law is known as natural law. A principle of natural law holds that certain events will always lead to a predictable consequence: the law of supply and demand.
A nation’s law can be a powerful force for good or evil. It can keep peace and maintain the status quo, protect minorities from majority oppression or promote social justice, but it may also suppress dissent, impair freedoms or create oppressive conditions for its own citizens (e.g., in Burma or Zimbabwe). Martial law involves the substitution of military control for civilian rule in times of war, rebellion or natural disaster.
The law can be a complex and confusing subject. Oxford Reference helps readers to understand it with clear definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries covering all areas of the law from criminal, civil, tax, and employment law to international, human rights, and family law. Our expert contributors write entries which are accessible to researchers at every level, including clear summaries and charts.