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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The cy-près doctrine in English law is an element of trusts law dealing with charitable trusts. The doctrine provides that when such a trust has failed because its purposes are either impossible or cannot be fulfilled, the High Court of Justice or Charity Commission can make an order redirecting the trust's funds to the nearest possible purpose. For charities worth under £5,000 and no land, the trustees (by a two-thirds majority) may make the decision to redirect the trust's funds. The doctrine was initially an element of ecclesiastical law, coming from the Norman French cy près comme possible (as close as possible), but similar and possibly ancestral provisions have been found in Roman law, both in the Corpus Juris Civilis and later Byzantine law. Trusts where the doctrine is applicable are divided into two groups; those with subsequent failure, where the trust's purpose has failed after it came into operation, and initial failure, where the trust's purposes are immediately invalid. Subsequent failure cases simply require the redirection of the funds to the nearest possible purpose, since there is no question of allowing the settlor's next of kin to inherit the money. Initial failure cases, however, require not just a decision on whether the purpose has failed, but also on whether the funds should be subject to cy-près or returned to the estate in a resulting trust. This is decided based on the charitable intention of the settlor, something determined on the facts of each individual case. (more...)

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Sir William Blackstone
Sir William Blackstone (1723–1780) was a British jurist, judge and Tory politician of the eighteenth century. He is most noted for writing the Commentaries on the Laws of England. Born into a middle class family in London, Blackstone was educated at Charterhouse School and Pembroke College, Oxford. He became a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford and was later called to the Bar. Following a slow start to his career as a barrister, Blackstone became heavily involved in university administration. On 3 July 1753 he formally gave up his practice as a barrister and embarked on a series of lectures on English law, the first of their kind, which were massively successful. Blackstone was the first Vinerian Professor of English Law, became a successful barrister and Tory Member of Parliament for the rotten borough of Hindon. In 1766 he published the first volume of Commentaries on the Laws of England, considered his magnum opus. After repeated failures, he successfully gained appointment to the judiciary as a Justice of the Court of King's Bench in 1770, leaving to become a Justice of the Common Pleas later the same year. He remained in this position until his death, on 14 February 1780. (more...)

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R v Secretary of State for Home Affairs ex parte O'Brien was a 1923 test case in English law that sought to have the internment and deportation of Irish nationalist sympathisers earlier that year declared legally invalid. In March 1923 between 80 and 100 suspected Irish nationalists in Britain were arrested by the police and sent to the Irish Free State under the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act 1920 (ROIA). One of the detainees, Art O'Brien, challenged his detention in a test case at the Divisional Court. The case eventually went to both the Court of Appeal and House of Lords, who decided that the internments were illegal because the Irish Free State was an independent nation and so British Acts of Parliament no longer applied to it. The decision effectively illegalised the ROIA and led to the immediate release of O'Brien and the other detained individuals, who sued the British Government for false imprisonment. The government pushed through the Restoration of Order in Ireland (Indemnity) Act 1923, which limited the money they had to pay the detainees, who eventually received £43,000. O'Brien himself was re-arrested and found guilty of sedition, and was imprisoned until 1924. (more...)

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The Representation of the People Act 1832, commonly known as the Reform Act 1832, was an Act of Parliament that introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of England and Wales. Calls for reform had been mooted long before 1832, but without success. The Act which finally succeeded was proposed by the Whigs led by the Prime Minister Lord Grey. It met with significant opposition from the Pittite factions in Parliament that had governed the country for so long. Nevertheless, as a result of public pressure, the bill was eventually passed. The Act granted seats in the House of Commons to large cities that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution, and took away seats from the "rotten boroughs". The Act also increased the number of individuals entitled to vote, increasing the size of the electorate by 50–80%, and allowing a total of one out of six adult males to vote, in a population of some 14 million. The Act only applied in England and Wales; separate reform bills were passed in the same year for Scotland and Ireland. Other reform measures were passed later during the 19th century; as a result, the Reform Act 1832 is sometimes called the "First", or "Great Reform Act". (more...)

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Lord Atkin, in Donoghue v Stevenson (1931), giving what would become a classic definition of the extent of the law of negligence.

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