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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Secret trusts in English law are a class of trust defined as an unofficial arrangement between a testator and a trustee, made to come into force after death, that aims to benefit a person without having been written in a will. Normally, the property would be given to the trustee in the will, and he would then be expected to pass it on to the real beneficiary. There are two types of secret trust — fully secret and half-secret — with different rules for each. A fully secret trust is one with no mention in the will whatsoever. For these to be valid, the person seeking to enforce the trust must prove that the testator intended to form a trust, that this intention was communicated to the trustee, and that the trustee accepted his office. Similar provisions are required for a half-secret trust, which is where there is a mention of the trust in the testator's will, but not of the trust's terms. Because secret trusts are not found in wills, they should technically fall foul of the Wills Act 1837, and be invalid. Despite this, the courts have chosen to uphold them as valid, and various justifications have been given for this, with modern views varying from the traditional approach. (more...)

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Judge Norman Birkett at the bench during the Nuremberg Trials
Norman Birkett, 1st Baron Birkett (1883–1962) was a British barrister, politician and judge. Born in Ulverston, Lancashire, he initially trained to be a Methodist preacher, and attended Emmanuel College, Cambridge to study theology and history. He became President of the Cambridge Union, and after switching to law graduated in 1910. He was called to the Bar in 1913 and developed a reputation as a barrister able to defend people with almost watertight criminal cases against them, such as in the second of the Brighton trunk murders and the Blazing Car murder. He sat as a Member of Parliament for Nottingham East in the 1920s, and was described as "the Lord Chancellor that never was". In 1941, he became a judge of the High Court, and later served as the alternate British judge in the Nuremberg Trials. Unhappy with his time in the High Court, he accepted a position in the Court of Appeal in 1950, but after finding he enjoyed it even less, retired in 1956 when he had served long enough to draw a pension. Following his retirement he was made a hereditary peer, and spoke regularly in the House of Lords. After speaking there in 1962 he collapsed at home, and following a failed operation died aged 78. (more...)

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Abraham Thornton
Ashford v Thornton was an 1818 English legal case in the Court of King's Bench that upheld the right of the defendant, on a private appeal from an acquittal for murder, to trial by battle. In 1817, Abraham Thornton (pictured) was charged with the murder of Mary Ashford. Thornton met Ashford at a dance, and walked with her from the event. The next morning, Ashford was found drowned in a pit, with little outward signs of violence. Although public opinion was heavily against Thornton, the jury quickly acquitted him, and also found him not guilty of rape. Mary's brother, William Ashford, launched an appeal, and Thornton was rearrested. Thornton claimed the right to trial by battle, a medieval usage which had never been repealed by Parliament. Ashford argued that the evidence against Thornton was overwhelming, and that he was thus ineligible to wager battle. The court decided that the evidence against Thornton was not overwhelming, and that trial by battle was a permissible option under law; thus Thornton was granted trial by battle. Ashford declined the offer of battle and Thornton was freed from custody. Appeals such as Ashford's were abolished by statute the following year, and with them the right to trial by battle. Thornton emigrated to the United States, where he died about 1860. (more...)

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The Trustee Act 2000 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that regulates the duties of trustees in English trust law. Reform in these areas had been advised as early as 1982, and finally came about through the Trustee Bill 2000, based on the Law Commission's 1999 report "Trustees' Powers and Duties", which was introduced to the House of Lords in January 2000. The bill received the Royal Assent on 23 November 2000 and came into force on 1 February 2001 through the Trustee Act 2000 (Commencement) Order 2001, a Statutory Instrument, with the Act having effect over England and Wales. The Act (which is still in force) covers five areas of trust law: the duty of care imposed upon trustees, trustees' power of investment, the power to appoint nominees and agents, the power to acquire land, and the power to receive remuneration for work done as a trustee. It sets a new duty of care, both objective and standard, massively extends the trustees' power of investment and limits the trustees' liability for the actions of agents, also providing for their remuneration for work done in the course of the trust. (more...)

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