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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Carucage was a medieval English land tax introduced by King Richard I in 1194, based on the size of the estate owned by the taxpayer. It was a replacement for the danegeld, last imposed in 1162, which had become difficult to collect because of an increasing number of exemptions. Carucage was levied just six times: by Richard in 1194 and 1198; John, his brother and successor, in 1200; and John's son, Henry III, in 1217, 1220, and 1224, after which it was replaced by taxes on income and personal property. The taxable value of an estate was initially assessed from the Domesday Survey, but other methods were later employed, such as valuations based on the sworn testimony of neighbours or on the number of plough-teams the taxpayer used. Carucage never raised as much as other taxes, but nevertheless helped to fund several projects. It paid the ransom for Richard's release in 1194, after he was taken prisoner by Leopold V, Duke of Austria; it covered the tax John had to pay Philip II of France in 1200 on land he inherited in that country; and it helped to finance Henry III's military campaigns in England and on continental Europe. (more...)

Selected biography

Charles Abbott, 1st Baron Tenterden
Charles Abbott, 1st Baron Tenterden (1762–1832) was a British barrister and judge who served as Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench between 1818 and 1832. Abbott first considered becoming a barrister when serving as a tutor to the son of Sir Francis Buller. He was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1796, and earned more than any other during his time at the Bar, despite being considered unimaginative and a poor speaker. He became a Justice of the Court of Common Pleas in 1816. Three months after he started sitting as a judge, he was transferred to the Court of King's Bench, where he was initially rather poor, being unfamiliar with the court's business. Within two years, he showed "the highest judicial excellence", and when Lord Ellenborough had a stroke in 1818, Abbott was chosen to replace him as Lord Chief Justice. His reign at the head of the Court of King's Bench saw the court flourish, with strong justices and his own much-admired abilities. He was appointed to the peerage in 1827, sitting as Charles Abbott, 1st Baron Tenterden. (more...)

Selected case

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 Old Bailey, officially called the Central Criminal Court – the figure of Justice on the top is not blindfolded, contrary to common belief.
Credit: Nevilley
The Old Bailey, officially called the Central Criminal Court – the figure of Justice on the top is not blindfolded, contrary to common belief.

Selected legislation

Henry VIII
The Statute of Uses was an Act of the Parliament of England that restricted the application of uses in English property law. The Statute was originally conceived by Henry VIII of England (pictured) as a way to rectify his financial problems by simplifying the law of uses, which moved land outside the royal tax revenue, traditionally gathered through seisin. His initial efforts, which removed uses almost completely, were stymied at the 1529 Parliament by members of the House of Commons, many of whom were landowners (who would lose money) and lawyers (who benefited in fees from the confusing law on uses). Academics disagree on how the Commons were brought around, but an eventual set of bills introduced in 1535 was passed by both the Lords and Commons. The eventual bills invalidated all uses that did not impose an active duty on trustees, with the beneficiaries of the use being held as the legal owners of the land, meaning they had to pay tax. (more...)

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Lord Denning, in his book The Family Story (1981)

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