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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...)

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

William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield
William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (1705–1793) was a British barrister, politician and judge noted for his reform of English law. Born to Scottish nobility, he was educated in Perth, Scotland and at Westminster School, London. He entered Christ Church, Oxford, in May 1723, and graduated four years later. Returning to London from Oxford, he was called to the Bar by Lincoln's Inn in 1730, and quickly gained a reputation as an excellent barrister. He became involved in politics in 1742, beginning with his election as MP for Boroughbridge, and appointment as Solicitor General. In the absence of a strong Attorney General, he became the main spokesman for the government in the House of Commons, and was described as "beyond comparison the best speaker" in the House of Commons. With the promotion of Sir Dudley Ryder to Lord Chief Justice in 1754, he became Attorney General, and when Ryder unexpectedly died several months later, he took his place as Chief Justice. He modernised both English law and the English courts system, and has been called the founder of English commercial law. He is perhaps best known for his judgment in Somersett's Case, where he held that slavery was unlawful in England. (more...)

Selected case

Jones v Kaney is a 2011 Supreme Court decision on whether expert witnesses in litigation can be sued for professional negligence. A claimant injured in a road traffic accident said that he had to settle his compensation claim at an undervalue because his expert psychologist had been negligent. The Supreme Court, by a majority, decided that expert witnesses were not immune from such claims, reversing a line of authority dating back 400 years. Lord Phillips, a member of the majority, compared the situation of expert witnesses with that of advocates, on the basis that both owed duties to clients and to the court. Advocates' immunity from negligence claims had been removed in 2001 but without an increase in vexatious claims. Lord Hope, in the minority, said that experts and advocates had different functions and so disagreed with the comparison. The judgment has been called a "landmark ruling" and an overdue step. Some commentators were concerned that it will lead to reduction in the number of expert witnesses prepared to become involved with some particularly sensitive areas, such as child abuse cases. Lady Hale, who also dissented, said that changing the law in this way was "irresponsible" and said that the position should instead be considered by the Law Commission and Parliament. (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 Arbitration Act 1979 (c.42) was an Act of Parliament that reformed arbitration law in England and Wales. Prior to 1979, arbitration law allowed use of the "Case Stated" procedure and other methods of judicial intervention, and the cost and time required for arbitration as a result made England an unpopular jurisdiction. While London was a centre for arbitration in insurance, admiralty and commodities trading, it failed to attract more modern forms of trade. The Act abolished the "Case Stated" procedure and other forms of judicial interference, replacing it with a limited system of appeal; it also allowed parties to agree to limit their rights to appeal to the courts, and gave arbitrators the ability to enforce interlocutory orders. Some academics praised it for bringing English law more into line with that of other nations, others criticised the wording used as unnecessarily complex and hazy. Having been repealed in its entirety by the Arbitration Act 1996, the Act is no longer in force. (more...)

Did you know...

From Wikipedia's "Did You Know" archives:

Selected quotation

Lord Denning, discussing contract clauses (in the days before the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977) in Spurling v Bradshaw (1956)

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