The Oxford Guide to Law


Law – the system of rules that a community recognises as governing their actions and relationships – shapes politics, history and society in many ways. Oxford Reference offers concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries across this broad discipline, from criminal and tax law to international, family and employment law, and major debates in legal theory.

The main areas of law are:

Civil law – In civil law jurisdictions the sources recognised as authoritative are primarily legislation and constitutions, statutes passed by the legislature, and case law. The latter arises from judicial decisions which, under the doctrine of stare decisis, are bound by and must be followed by lower courts in similar cases. Civil law traditions have survived, for example, in countries colonised by continental European powers. It also persists in some religious communities, such as the Islamic Sharia and the Jewish Halakha.

Administrative law – the rules and procedures governing the activities of government departments and agencies – is an important area. It includes the regulation of services and utilities such as electricity, gas and water, whose provision may be outsourced by governments to private companies.

Space law – the laws governing human activities in Earth orbit and outer space, including the exploration and commercialisation of space, is a new area of legal development. It addresses issues such as international treaties and the rights of space-borne people, including their protection in the event of a disaster.

A lawyer who specialises in space law is a solicitor-general. Court officers working in the field include probation and pretrial services officers, who screen applicants for parole and monitor convicted offenders released under supervision, and public defenders, who represent defendants who cannot afford lawyers in criminal trials.