Portal:Law of England and Wales

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The Law of England and Wales Portal

English law is the legal system of England and Wales, and is the basis of common law legal systems used in most Commonwealth countries and the United States (as opposed to civil law or pluralist systems in use in other countries). It was exported to Commonwealth countries while the British Empire was established and maintained, and it forms the basis of the legal systems of most of those countries. England and Wales are constituent countries of the United Kingdom; Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own legal systems, although in some areas of law there are no differences between the jurisdictions. Whilst Wales has a devolved Assembly, its power to legislate is limited by the Government of Wales Act 2006.

English law is a mixture of common law, legislation passed by the UK Parliament (or subordinate legislation made under delegated authority) and European law. The essence of common law is that it is made by judges sitting in courts, applying their common sense and knowledge of legal precedent (stare decisis) to the facts before them. A decision of the highest appeal court in England and Wales, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, is binding on every other court in the hierarchy. Common law can be altered by Parliament. The oldest statute currently in force is the Distress Act 1267, part of the Statute of Marlborough. Three sections of Magna Carta, originally signed in 1215 and a landmark in the development of English law, are still in force, but they date to the reissuing of the law in 1297. European law applies in England and Wales because the UK is a member of the European Union, and so the European Court of Justice can direct English and Welsh courts on the meaning of areas of law in which the EU has passed legislation. (more about English law...)

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Wife selling at a market
The English custom of wife selling was a way of ending an unsatisfactory marriage by mutual agreement that began in the late 17th century, when divorce was a practical impossibility for all but the very wealthiest. After parading his wife with a halter around her neck, arm, or waist, a husband would publicly auction her to the highest bidder. Wife selling provides the backdrop for Thomas Hardy's novel The Mayor of Casterbridge, in which the central character sells his wife at the beginning of the story, an act that haunts him for the rest of his life, and ultimately destroys him. Although the custom had no basis in law and frequently resulted in prosecution, particularly from the mid-19th century onwards, the attitude of the authorities was equivocal. At least one early 19th-century magistrate is on record as stating that he did not believe he had the right to prevent wife sales, and there were cases of local Poor Law Commissioners forcing husbands to sell their wives, rather than having to maintain the family in workhouses. Wife selling persisted in some form until the early 20th century; according to the jurist and historian James Bryce, writing in 1901, wife sales were still occasionally taking place during his time. A woman giving evidence in a Leeds police court in 1913, claimed that she had been sold to one of her husband's workmates for £1, one of the last reported instances of a wife sale in England. (more...)

Selected biography

Thomas Jefferson Hogg
Thomas Jefferson Hogg (1792–1862) was a British barrister and writer best known for his friendship with the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. They became friends while studying at University College, Oxford, and remained close until Shelley's death. They collaborated on several literary projects at Oxford, culminating in their joint expulsion following the publication of one controversial treatise. Hogg became a barrister and met Jane Williams, who became his common law wife; they had two children together. The family settled in London, although Hogg's legal career meant that he often had to travel away from home. While living in London Hogg made the acquaintance of several well-known writers, and he published literary works of his own, including two entries on Greek literature in the Encyclopædia Britannica. His best-known work was The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, an unfinished biography of the poet, criticised for portraying him negatively. Hogg received an appointment to a government commission on municipal corporations and became a revising barrister. His legal career was moderately successful, but he was often frustrated by his failure to attain his goal of becoming a professor or judge. (more...)

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Jones v Kaney is a 2011 Supreme Court decision on whether expert witnesses in litigation can be sued for professional negligence. A claimant injured in a road traffic accident said that he had to settle his compensation claim at an undervalue because his expert psychologist had been negligent. The Supreme Court, by a majority, decided that expert witnesses were not immune from such claims, reversing a line of authority dating back 400 years. Lord Phillips, a member of the majority, compared the situation of expert witnesses with that of advocates, on the basis that both owed duties to clients and to the court. Advocates' immunity from negligence claims had been removed in 2001 but without an increase in vexatious claims. Lord Hope, in the minority, said that experts and advocates had different functions and so disagreed with the comparison. The judgment has been called a "landmark ruling" and an overdue step. Some commentators were concerned that it will lead to reduction in the number of expert witnesses prepared to become involved with some particularly sensitive areas, such as child abuse cases. Lady Hale, who also dissented, said that changing the law in this way was "irresponsible" and said that the position should instead be considered by the Law Commission and Parliament. (more...)

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Thomas More was a leading counsellor to Henry VIII and served as Lord Chancellor from 1529 to 1532. He was imprisoned and beheaded in 1535 after he had fallen out of favour with the king over his refusal to sign the Act of Supremacy 1534.
Credit: Hans Holbein the Younger
Thomas More was a leading counsellor to Henry VIII and served as Lord Chancellor from 1529 to 1532. He was imprisoned and beheaded in 1535 after he had fallen out of favour with the king over his refusal to sign the Act of Supremacy 1534.

Selected legislation

The Statute of Monopolies was an Act of the Parliament of England notable as the first statutory expression of English patent law. Patents evolved from letters patent, issued by the monarch to grant monopolies over particular industries to skilled individuals with new techniques. Originally intended to strengthen England's economy by making it self-sufficient and promoting new industries, the system gradually became seen as a way to raise money (through charging patent-holders) without having to incur the public unpopularity of a tax. Elizabeth I was a great abuser of the system, issuing patents for common commodities such as starch and salt. Unrest eventually persuaded her to turn the administration of patents over to the common law courts, but her successor, James I, was even more abusive. Despite a committee established to investigate grievances and excesses, Parliament made several efforts to further curtail the monarch's power. The result was the Statute of Monopolies, passed on 25 May 1624. The statute repealed all past and future patents and monopolies, except those created in the future over completely novel inventions. Seen as a key moment in the evolution of patent law, the statute (which has been replaced by later legislation) has also been described as "one of the landmarks in the transition of [England's] economy from the feudal to the capitalist". (more...)

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