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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Selected article

Lord George Gordon, the defendant
Lord George Gordon was tried for high treason on 5 February 1781 before Lord Mansfield in the Court of King's Bench, as a result of his role in the Gordon Riots. Gordon had led a protest against the Papists Act 1778, a Catholic relief bill, during which he denounced Members of Parliament and launched "anti-Catholic harangues". Protesters began looting nearby buildings; by the time the riots had finished a week later, 300 had died, and more property had been damaged than during the entire French Revolution. Gordon was indicted for levying war against the King. Thomas Erskine, one of the barristers defending him, made an impassioned speech, which argued that Gordon's actions were only crimes under the illegally extended law of constructive treason, and this led to the jury finding him not guilty. This result, which met with pleasure due to the popular disquiet with the idea of constructive treason, left juries unwilling to apply the extended law of constructive treason; as a result, the government was forced to incorporate it into statute law. (more...)

Selected biography

Sir Matthew Hale
Sir Matthew Hale (1609–1676) was an influential English barrister, judge and jurist most noted for his treatise Historia Placitorum Coronæ. He studied at Magdalen Hall, Oxford and became a barrister, representing various Royalist figures during the English Civil War. His reputation for integrity saved him from repercussions under the Commonwealth of England and Oliver Cromwell made him a Justice of the Common Pleas. He was noted for his resistance to bribery and his willingness to make politically unpopular decisions which upheld the law. When Charles II was reinstated, Hale was made Chief Baron of the Exchequer and then Chief Justice of the King's Bench. In both positions, he was again noted for his integrity, although not as particularly innovative. Hale is almost universally appreciated as an excellent judge and jurist, with his central legacy coming through his written work, published after his death. His Analysis of the Common Law is the first published history of English law and a strong influence on William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, whilst his jurisprudence struck a middle-ground between Edward Coke's "appeal to reason" and John Selden's "appeal to contract", while refuting elements of Thomas Hobbes's theory of natural law. His thoughts on marital rape, expressed in the Historia, continued in English law until 1991, and he was cited in court as recently as 1993. (more...)

Selected case

Slade's Case was a case in English contract law that ran from 1596 to 1602. Under the medieval common law, claims seeking the repayment of a debt or other matters could only be pursued through a writ of debt in the Court of Common Pleas, a problematic and archaic process. By 1558 the lawyers had succeeded in creating another method, enforced by the Court of King's Bench, through the action of assumpsit, which was technically for deceit. The legal fiction used was that by failing to pay after promising to do so, a defendant had committed deceit, and was liable to the plaintiff. The conservative Common Pleas, through the appellate court the Court of Exchequer Chamber, began to overrule decisions made by the King's Bench on assumpsit, causing friction between the courts. In Slade's Case, a case under assumpsit, which was brought between judges of the Common Pleas and King's Bench, was transferred to the Exchequer Chamber where the King's Bench judges were allowed to vote. The case dragged on for five years, with the judgment finally being delivered in 1602 by the Chief Justice of the King's Bench, John Popham. Popham ruled that assumpsit claims were valid, a decision called a "watershed" moment in English law, with archaic and outdated principles being overwritten by the modern and effective assumpsit, which soon became the main course of action in contract cases. This is also seen as an example of judicial legislation, with the courts making a revolutionary decision Parliament had failed to make. (more...)

Selected picture

Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor since September 2012
Credit: Work and Pensions Office
Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor since September 2012

Selected legislation

The Occupiers' Liability Act 1957 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that covers occupiers' liability. The result of the Third Report of the Law Reform Committee, the Act was introduced to Parliament as the Occupiers' Liability Bill and granted the Royal Assent on 6 June 1957, coming into force on 1 January 1958. The Act unified several classes of visitors to property and the duty of care owed to them by the occupier, as well as codifying elements of the common law relating to this duty of care. It also covered the duty owed to parties to a contract entering the property and ways of excluding the liability for visitors. The Act introduced an element of liability for landlords who failed to maintain their properties and were as a result responsible for the injury of a non-tenant, something counter to the previous common law rule in English law. The Act is still valid law, and forms much of the law relating to occupiers' liability in English law along with the Occupiers' Liability Act 1984. (more...)

Did you know...

From Wikipedia's "Did You Know" archives:

  • ... that the Leges Henrici Primi (written c. 1115) sets out a list of royal pleas or pleas of the crown, crimes that could only be tried in front of the king or his officials?
  • ... that English barrister Joseph Keble went to the Court of King's Bench every day from 1661 to 1710, but was never known to have a brief for a client?
  • ... that the English case of Pepper v Hart, at first accepted by the judiciary, has "been reduced to such an extent that the ruling has almost become meaningless"?
  • ... that according to one theory, English secret trusts are entirely constructed by the courts?
  • ... that two sections of the British 1973 Sale of Goods Act were completely identical?

Selected quotation

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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