LAW (O. Eng. lagu, M. Eng. lawe; from an old Teutonic root lag, “lie,” what lies fixed or evenly; cf. Lat. lex, Fr. loi), a word used in English in two main senses—(1) as a rule prescribed by authority for human action, and (2) in scientific and philosophic phraseology, as a uniform order of sequence (e.g. “laws” of motion). In the first sense the word is used either in the abstract, for jurisprudence generally or for a state of things in which the laws of a country are duly observed (“law and order”), or in the concrete for some particular rule or body of rules. It is usual to distinguish further between “law” and “equity” (q.v.). The scientific and philosophic usage has grown out of an early conception of jurisprudence, and is really metaphorical, derived from the phrase “natural law” or “law of nature,” which presumed that commands were laid on matter by God (see T. E. Holland, Elements of Jurisprudence, ch. ii.). The adjective “legal” is only used in the first sense, never in the second. In the case of the “moral law” (see Ethics) the term is employed somewhat ambiguously because of its connexion with both meanings. There is also an Old English use of the word “law” in a more or less sporting sense (“to give law” or “allow so much law”), meaning a start or fair allowance in time or distance. Presumably this originated simply in the liberty-loving Briton’s respect for proper legal procedure; instead of the brute exercise of tyrannous force he demanded “law,” or a fair opportunity and trial. But it may simply be an extension of the meaning of “right,” or of the sense of “leave” which is found in early uses of the French loi.
In this work the laws or uniformities of the physical universe are dealt with in the articles on the various sciences. The general principles of law in the legal sense are discussed under Jurisprudence. What may be described as “national systems” of law are dealt with historically and generally under English Law, American Law, Roman Law, Greek Law, Mahommedan Law, Indian Law, &c. Certain broad divisions of law are treated under Constitution and Constitutional Law, Canon Law, Civil Law, Common Law, Criminal Law, Ecclesiastical Law, Equity, International Law, Military Law, &c. And the particular laws of different countries on special subjects are stated under the headings for those subjects (Bankruptcy, &c.). For courts (q.v.) of law, and procedure, see Jurisprudence, Appeal, Trial, King’s Bench, &c.
Authorities.—The various legal articles have bibliographies attached, but it may be convenient here to mention such general works on law, apart from the science of jurisprudence, as (for English law) Lord Halsbury’s Laws of England (vol. i., 1907), The Encyclopaedia of the Laws of England, ed. Wood Renton (1907), Stephen’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1908), Brett’s Commentaries on the present Laws of England (1896), Broom’s Commentaries on the Common Law (1896) and Brodie-Innes’s Comparative Principles of the Laws of England and Scotland (vol. i., 1903); and, for America, Bouvier’s Law Dictionary, and Kent’s Commentaries on American Law.