Definition of law noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary



    BrE BrE//lɔː//
    ; NAmE NAmE//lɔː//
    Higher education institutions
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    system of rules
  1. 1  (also the law) [uncountable] the whole system of rules that everyone in a country or society must obey If they entered the building they would be breaking the law. In Sweden it is against the law to hit a child. Defence attorneys can use any means within the law to get their client off. British schools are now required by law to publish their exam results. The reforms have recently become law. Do not think you are above the law (= think that you cannot be punished by the law). the need for better law enforcement (humorous) Kate's word was law in the Brown household. CollocationsCriminal justiceBreaking the law break/​violate/​obey/​uphold the law be investigated/​arrested/​tried for a crime/​a robbery/​fraud be arrested/ (especially North American English) indicted/​convicted on charges of rape/​fraud/(especially US English) felony charges be arrested on suspicion of arson/​robbery/​shoplifting be accused of/​be charged with murder/(especially North American English) homicide/​four counts of fraud face two charges of indecent assault admit your guilt/​liability/​responsibility (for something) deny the allegations/​claims/​charges confess to a crime grant/​be refused/​be released on/​skip/​jump bailThe legal process stand/​await/​bring somebody to/​come to/​be on trial take somebody to/​come to/​settle something out of court face/​avoid/​escape prosecution seek/​retain/​have the right to/​be denied access to legal counsel hold/​conduct/​attend/​adjourn a hearing/​trial sit on/​influence/​persuade/​convince the jury sit/​stand/​appear/​be put/​place somebody in the dock plead guilty/​not guilty to a crime be called to/​enter (British English) the witness box take/​put somebody on the stand/(North American English) the witness stand call/​subpoena/​question/​cross-examine a witness give/​hear the evidence against/​on behalf of somebody raise/​withdraw/​overrule an objection reach a unanimous/​majority verdict return/​deliver/​record a verdict of not guilty/​unlawful killing/​accidental death convict/​acquit the defendant of the crime secure a conviction/​your acquittal lodge/​file an appeal appeal (against)/challenge/​uphold/​overturn a conviction/​verdictSentencing and punishment pass sentence on somebody carry/​face/​serve a seven-year/​life sentence receive/​be given the death penalty be sentenced to ten years (in prison/​jail) carry/​impose/​pay a fine (of $3 000)/a penalty (of 14 years imprisonment) be imprisoned/​jailed for drug possession/​fraud/​murder do/​serve time/​ten years be sent to/​put somebody in/​be released from jail/​prison be/​put somebody/​spend X years on death row be granted/​be denied/​break (your) parole Wordfinderabide by something, court, crime, justice, law, legal, police, prosecute, punish, trial Culturethe legal systemFor historical reasons, the system of law used in Scotland is different from that in England and Wales, with the law in Northern Ireland similar to that in England. When making decisions Scottish courts look for an appropriate general principle and apply it to a particular situation. English law relies on case law, a collection of previous decisions, called precedents. English courts look at precedents for the case being tried and make a similar judgement. A basic principle of law in Britain is that anyone accused is innocent until proven guilty, so it is the job of the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant (= the person accused) has broken the law as stated in the charge. If this cannot be proved the person must be acquitted (= allowed to go free, with no blame attached).British law is divided into civil law which concerns disagreements between individuals about matters such as business contracts, and criminal law which deals with offences that involve harm to a person resulting from somebody breaking the law. In civil cases, the plaintiff (= the person who claims to have been wronged) brings an action against the defendant in the hope of winning damages (= a financial payment) or an injunction (= a court order preventing the defendant from doing something). Criminal cases are brought against criminals by the state, in England and Wales by the Director of Public Prosecutions and in Scotland through procurators fiscal.In England and Wales most towns have a Magistrates' Court where minor cases are judged and more serious cases are passed to higher courts by three magistrates called Justices of the Peace, specially trained members of the public. The more serious cases are heard in a Crown Court by a judge and a jury. Minor civil cases, such as divorce and bankruptcy, are heard in the county courts and more serious ones in the High Court of Justice. Appeals against decisions from the Crown Court or the High Court go to the Court of Appeal and a few cases, where a question of law is in doubt, are passed to the Supreme Court, which has replaced the House of the Lords as the highest court in the country.In Scotland, criminal cases are heard in District Courts by members of the public called lay justices. More serious cases go to regional sheriff courts and are heard by the sheriff and a jury. Appeals go to the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh. Civil cases begin in the sheriff court and may go on appeal to the Court of Session.In the US, the judicial system is one of the three branches of the federal government, but the legal system operates at many levels with state, county and city courts as well as federal courts. The right to trial by jury is provided by the Constitution. Each type of court has its own jurisdiction, that is it deals with certain kinds of cases. Both civil and criminal cases are first heard in trial courts and there is a right to appeal against the court's decision in a court of appeals. Many states have family courts where people get divorced and small claims courts which deal with small amounts of money. States also have trial courts, which hear a wider range of cases, and courts of appeal called superior courts or district courts. Most states have a supreme court where the most serious appeals are held. States have their own criminal code, but some crimes are federal offences, i.e. against federal law, and crimes may fall under federal jurisdiction if more than one state is involved.Most courts have only one judge, but some higher courts have several. In the US Supreme Court, the nine judges are called justices. The people on either side of a case are represented by lawyers, also called attorneys-at-law. In a criminal trial the defendant is represented by a defense attorney, or if he or she is too poor to pay a lawyer, the court will appoint a public defender. The prosecution is led by an assistant district attorney or, in federal cases, by a federal attorney.
  2. 2  [uncountable] a particular branch of the law company/international/tax, etc. law see also canon law, case law, civil law, common law, private law, statute law
  3. one rule
  4. 3  [countable] a rule that deals with a particular crime, agreement, etc. law (against something) the 1996 law against the hiring of illegal immigrants law (on something) The government has introduced some tough new laws on food hygiene. strict gun laws a federal/state law to pass a law (= officially make it part of the system of laws) (informal) There ought to be a law against it! see also by-law, licensing laws Wordfinderact, bill, chamber, coalition, election, law, legislation, parliament, politician, vote
  5. subject/profession
  6. 4  [uncountable] the study of the law as a subject at university, etc.; the profession of being a lawyer Jane is studying law. (North American English) He's in law school. (British English) He's at law school. What made you go into law? a law firm See related entries: Higher education institutions
  7. police
  8. 5  the law [singular] used to refer to the police and the legal system Jim is always getting into trouble with the law. She was well known for her brushes with the law.
  9. of organization/activity
  10. 6[countable] one of the rules which controls an organization or activity the laws of the Church The first law of kung fu is to defend yourself. the laws of cricket the laws of war
  11. of good behaviour
  12. 7[countable] a rule for good behaviour or how you should behave in a particular place or situation moral laws the unspoken laws of the street
  13. in business/nature/science
  14. 8  [countable] the fact that something always happens in the same way in an activity or in nature synonym principle the laws of supply and demand the law of gravity
  15. 9[countable] a scientific rule that somebody has stated to explain a natural process the first law of thermodynamics
  16. see also Murphy’s Law, Parkinson’s law, Sod’s Law, legal, legalize, legislate
    Word OriginOld English lagu, from Old Norse lag ‘something laid down or fixed’, of Germanic origin and related to lay (verb).Extra examples A presidential veto prevented the bill from becoming law. As the law stands, you can get married at sixteen. As the law stands, you can get married while still too young to have a driving licence. By law, you are obliged to install smoke alarms in the factory. Congress amended the law in 1998. Environmental laws are strict about polluting precious water. In spite of the difficulties it would cause her family, the judge stuck to the letter of the law and jailed her. It’s the job of the police to enforce the law. Judges interpret this law in different ways. Laws criminalizing same-sex relationships were ruled unconstitutional. Martial law was imposed to prevent the breakdown of law and order. No one is above the law. Parliament voted for the bill to become law. She lost her job at a Boston law office. She’s at law school. The building was raided by law enforcement agents. The company is operating entirely within the law. The law applies equally to businesses large and small. The law forbids gambling of any kind. The law is clear: bribery is wrong. The wearing of a crash helmet is required by law. We believe this law is unconstitutional. What you did was clearly against the law. When police failed to arrest the suspect, local people took the law into their own hands and beat him up. a law limiting the hours of work to ten hours per day a law recognizing civil unions for same-sex couples a local law against keeping horses a room filled with law books individuals who are acting beyond the law rebels who live outside the law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became the law of the land on July 2, 1964. the broader implications of copyright law reform the law concerning industrial action ballots the law governing school attendance the law relating to the sale of goods the laws regarding child actors the laws regulating firearms the legislators who drafted the law the passage of a restrictive immigration law in 1924 Do you remember anything about Ohm’s Law? He frequently behaved as though moral laws did not exist. He specializes in international law. He was charged under the 1996 law against hiring illegal immigrants. If they entered the building they would be breaking the law. The country has very strict gun laws. The reforms have recently become law. The usual laws of supply and demand do not seem to apply in this case. Their world is shaped by their parents’ attitudes and the unspoken law of the street. Who first defined the law of gravity?Idioms to behave in an independent way and ignore rules or what other people want you to do Boys of that age are a law unto themselves. (British English) to ask a court to settle a problem or disagreement They went to law to get back their property.  a situation in which people obey the law and behave in a peaceful way The government struggled to maintain law and order. After the riots, the military was brought in to restore law and order. They claim to be the party of law and order. the principle that one thing will happen as often as another if you try enough times Keep applying and by the law of averages you'll get a job sooner or later. a situation in which people are prepared to harm other people in order to succeed These criminal gangs only recognize the law of the jungle. to tell somebody with force what they should or should not do My dad started laying down the law about what time I should come home. (often disapproving) the exact words of a law or rule rather than its general meaning They insist on sticking to the letter of the law. We might be guilty of slightly bending the letter of the law.
    on the wrong side of the law
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    in trouble with the police
    possession is nine tenths of the law
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    (saying) if you already have or control something, it is difficult for somebody else to take it away from you, even if they have the legal right to it
    the condition in which all members of society, including its rulers, accept the authority of the law Democracy and the rule of law are yet to be firmly established in the country.
    take the law into your own hands
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    to do something illegal in order to punish somebody for doing something wrong, instead of letting the police deal with them After a series of burglaries in the area, the police are worried that residents might take the law into their own hands.
    there’s no law against something
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    (informal) used to tell somebody who is criticizing you that you are not doing anything wrong I'll sing if I want to—there's no law against it.
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: law