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Law is a system of rules, usually enforced through a set of institutions. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a primary social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus ticket to trading on derivatives markets. Property law defines rights and obligations related to the transfer and title of personal (often referred to as chattel) and real property. Trust law applies to assets held for investment and financial security, while tort law allows claims for compensation if a person's rights or property are harmed. If the harm is criminalised in a statute, criminal law offers means by which the state can prosecute the perpetrator. Constitutional law provides a framework for the creation of law, the protection of human rights and the election of political representatives. Administrative law is used to review the decisions of government agencies, while international law governs affairs between sovereign states in activities ranging from trade to environmental regulation or military action. Writing in 350 BC, the Greek philosopher Aristotle declared, "The rule of law is better than the rule of any individual."
Legal systems elaborate rights and responsibilities in a variety of ways. A general distinction can be made between civil law jurisdictions, which codify their laws, and common law systems, where judge made law is not consolidated. In some countries, religion informs the law. Law provides a rich source of scholarly inquiry, into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis or sociology. Law also raises important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness and justice. "In its majestic equality", said the author Anatole France in 1894, "the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread." In a typical democracy, the central institutions for interpreting and creating law are the three main branches of government, namely an impartial judiciary, a democratic legislature, and an accountable executive. To implement and enforce the law and provide services to the public, a government's bureaucracy, the military and police are vital. While all these organs of the state are creatures created and bound by law, an independent legal profession and a vibrant civil society inform and support their progress. (more...)
The Constitution of May 3, 1791 was drafted between October 6, 1788, and May 3, 1791, when it was adopted as a "Government Act" by the Great Sejm of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch). The document was designed to redress political defects of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth; the system of "Golden Liberty" had conferred disproportionate rights on the nobility, and over time had corrupted politics. Its adoption was preceded by a period of agitation for, and gradual introduction of, reforms, beginning with the Convocation Sejm of 1764 and the election of Stanisław August Poniatowski as the Commonwealth's last king, and culminating in legislation adopted by the Great Sejm.
The constitution sought to supplant the prevailing anarchy, fostered by some of the country's magnates, with a more democratic constitutional monarchy. It introduced elements of political equality between townspeople and nobility and placed the peasants under the protection of the government, thus mitigating the worst abuses of serfdom. It banned pernicious parliamentary institutions such as the liberum veto, which had put the Sejm at the mercy of any single deputy who could choose, or be bribed by an interest or foreign power, to undo all the legislation that had been passed by that Sejm. (more...)
Dietrich v The Queen was an important case decided in the High Court of Australia on 13 November 1992. It concerned the nature of the right to a fair trial, and under what circumstances defendants who cannot afford legal representation should be provided with legal aid by the state. Dietrich had entered Australia from Thailand with at least seventy grams of heroin concealed in condoms that he had swallowed. Australian Federal Police arrested him and searched his flat, finding one of the condoms and some heroin; Dietrich alleged that the drugs had been planted by the police. He was tried in the County Court of Victoria, but had no legal representation during the lengthy trial: the Legal Aid Commission of Victoria refused assistance unless he agreed to plead guilty. Dietrich was acquitted of one of the lesser charges, but convicted of the principal charge. The High Court of Australia decided that although there is no absolute right to have publicly funded counsel, in most circumstances a judge should grant any request for an adjournment or stay when an accused is unrepresented. It is an important case in Australian criminal law, and also in Australian constitutional law, since it is one of a number of cases in which some members of the High Court have found implied human rights in the Australian Constitution. (more...)
The Ordinances of 1311 were a series of regulations imposed upon King Edward II by the peerage and clergy of the Kingdom of England to restrict the power of the king. The twenty-one signatories of the Ordinances are referred to as the Lords Ordainers, or simply the Ordainers. English setbacks in the Scottish war, combined with perceived extortionate royal fiscal policies, set the background for the writing of the Ordinances in which the administrative prerogatives of the king were largely appropriated by a baronial council. The Ordinances reflect the Provisions of Oxford and the Provisions of Westminster from the late 1250s, but unlike the Provisions, the Ordinances featured a new concern with fiscal reform, specifically redirecting revenues from the king's household to the exchequer.
Just as instrumental to their conception were other issues, particularly discontent with the king's favourite, Piers Gaveston, whom the barons subsequently banished from the realm. Edward II accepted the Ordinances only under coercion, and a long struggle for their repeal ensued that did not end until Thomas of Lancaster – the leader of the Ordainers – was executed in 1322. (more...)