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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Thomas Cromwell
The Master of the Rolls is the second most senior judge in England and Wales, after the Lord Chief Justice, and is the presiding officer of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal. The first record of a Master of the Rolls is from 1286, although it is believed that the office probably existed earlier than that. The Master of the Rolls was initially a clerk responsible for keeping the "Rolls", or records, of the Chancery court. The post evolved into a judicial one as the Court of Chancery did; the first reference to judicial duties dates from 1520. With the Judicature Act 1873, the Master transferred from the now-defunct Court of Chancery to the Court of Appeal. The Master still retained his clerical functions by serving as the nominal head of the Public Record Office until 1958, when responsibility was transferred to the Lord Chancellor. The Master of the Rolls is also responsible for registering solicitors, the officers of the Senior Courts. The present Master of the Rolls is Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, who succeeded Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony on 1 October 2009. Previous holders of the post include Thomas Cromwell (pictured) and Lord Denning. (more...)

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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...)

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Pepper (Inspector of Taxes) v Hart (decided in 1992) is a landmark decision of the House of Lords on the use of legislative history in statutory interpretation. It established the principle that when primary legislation is ambiguous, the court may sometimes refer to statements made in the House of Commons or House of Lords in an attempt to interpret it. Lord Mackay, dissenting, argued that Hansard should not be considered admissible evidence due to the time and expense involved in a lawyer having to look up every debate and discussion on a particular statute when giving legal advice or preparing a case. The decision met a mixed reception. While the judiciary were cautiously accepting, legal academics argued that it violated rules of evidence, damaged the separation of powers between the executive and Parliament and caused additional expense in cases. There have been several subsequent judicial decisions that limit the precedent, preventing the use of Hansard as a source of law, in criminal law cases or to overrule precedent set prior to Pepper except in exceptional circumstances. (more...)

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The Variation of Trusts Act 1958 (C.62) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that governs the courts' ability to vary the terms of trust documents. Prior to the 1950s, the courts were willing to approve "compromise" agreements as to what terms meant, not only when they were disputed but also for the benefit of certain parties, such as minors. In 1954, the House of Lords decided in Chapman v Chapman that this would no longer be permitted. The Act was brought in to deal with the problem. The Act gave the courts near-unlimited discretion to approve "compromise" agreements, for the benefit of infants or other incapable individuals, for individuals who may become beneficiaries, or for unborn beneficiaries. The courts have interpreted the Act's scope fairly widely, stating that almost any "variation" is acceptable, and that "benefit" may mean not just a financial benefit, but also a social or moral one. Despite initial fears that it would allow tax planners another way to hide funds and create a back-and-forth fight between the Chancery Division and Parliament, the Act was met with general approval. The ability of the courts to alter trustees' investment powers under the Act was criticised as slow and expensive, and as a result this is now covered by the Trustee Investments Act 1961. (more...)

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I ... do swear that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth in the office of ... and I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will. So help me God.
Judicial oath, as sworn by judges on their appointment, from the Promissory Oaths Act 1868.

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