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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A Quistclose trust is a trust created where a creditor has lent money to a debtor for a particular purpose. In the event that the debtor uses the money for any other purpose, it is held on trust for the creditor. Any inappropriately spent money can then be traced, and returned to the creditors. The name and trust comes from the House of Lords decision in Barclays Bank Ltd v Quistclose Investments Ltd (1970), although the underlying principles can be traced back further. There has been much academic debate over the classification of Quistclose trusts in existing trusts law: whether they are resulting trusts, express trusts, constructive trusts or, as Lord Millett said in 2002 in the case of Twinsectra Ltd v Yardley, illusory trusts. On Millett's approach, the trust is created by the intention of either party, and is revocable at any time. The problems with this idea are that the facts in Quistclose are not those of a normal illusory trust, and Millett failed to consider the mutual intention of the parties and any underlying contracts. (more...)

Selected biography

Lloyd Kenyon, 1st Baron Kenyon
Lloyd Kenyon, 1st Baron Kenyon (1732–1802) was a British politician and barrister, who served as Attorney General, Master of the Rolls and Lord Chief Justice. Rather than going to university he instead worked as a clerk to an attorney, joining the Middle Temple in 1750 and being called to the Bar in 1756. His business increased thanks to his friendships with John Dunning, who, overwhelmed with cases, allowed Kenyon to work many, and Lord Thurlow who secured for him the Chief Justiceship of Chester in 1780. He was returned as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Hindon the same year, serving repeatedly as Attorney General under William Pitt the Younger. On 27 March 1784 he was appointed Master of the Rolls, a job he dedicated himself to once he ceased to act as an MP. Although unfamiliar with Roman law, he was highly efficient; Lord Eldon said "I am mistaken if, after I am gone, the Chancery Records do not prove that if I have decided more than any of my predecessors in the same period of time, Sir Lloyd Kenyon beat us all". On 9 June 1788, Kenyon succeeded Lord Mansfield as Lord Chief Justice, and was granted a barony. He remained Lord Chief Justice until his death in 1802. (more...)

Selected case

Cream Holdings Ltd v Banerjee and the Liverpool Post and Echo Ltd was a 2004 decision by the House of Lords on the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998 on freedom of expression. The Act, particularly Section 12, cautioned the courts to only grant remedies that would restrict publication before trial where it is "likely" that the trial will establish that the publication would not be allowed. Banerjee, an accountant with Cream Holdings, obtained documents which she claimed contained evidence of illegal and unsound practices on Cream's part and gave them to the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo, who ran a series of articles on 13 and 14 June 2002 asserting that a director of Cream had been bribing a local council official in Liverpool. Cream applied for an emergency injunction on 18 June in the High Court of Justice, where a judge decided on 5 July that Cream had shown "a real prospect of success" at trial, granting the injunction. This judgment was confirmed by the Court of Appeal on 13 February 2003. Leave was given to appeal to the House of Lords, where a judgment was given on 14 October 2004 by Lord Nicholls, with the other judges assenting. In it, Nicholls said that the test required by the Human Rights Act, "more likely than not", was a higher standard than "a real prospect of success", and that the Act "makes the likelihood of success at the trial an essential element in the court's consideration of whether to make an interim order", asserting that in similar cases courts should be reluctant to grant interim injunctions unless it can be shown that the claimant is "more likely than not" to succeed. At the same time, he admitted that the "real prospect of success" test was not necessarily insufficient, granting the appeal nonetheless because the High Court had ignored the public interest element of the disclosure. As the first confidentiality case brought after the Human Rights Act, Cream is the leading case used in British "breach of confidentiality" cases. (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 Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that significantly reformed the common law Doctrine of Privity. The second rule of the Doctrine of Privity, that a third party could not benefit from the terms of a contract, had been widely criticised by lawyers, academics and judges. Proposals for parliamentary reform were first made in 1937 by the Law Revision Committee. The Law Commission proposed a new draft bill in 1991, and presented their final report in 1996. The bill was introduced to the House of Lords in December 1998, and moved to the House of Commons on 14 June 1999. It received the Royal Assent on 11 November 1999, and has been in force since that date. The Act allows third parties to enforce terms of contracts that benefit them in some way, or which the contract allows them to enforce. It also grants them access to a range of remedies if the terms are breached. It also limits the ways in which a contract can be changed without the permission of an involved third party. At the same time, it provides protection for the promisor and promisee in situations where there is a dispute with the third party, and allows parties to a contract to specifically exclude the protection afforded by the Act if they want to limit the involvement of third parties. (more...)

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The Common Law of England has been laboriously built about a mythical figure – the figure of "The Reasonable Man".
A. P. Herbert, politician, law reformer and humorist, in Uncommon Law (1935)

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