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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Two of the accused witches
The trials of the Pendle witches in 1612 are among the most famous witch trials in English history, and some of the best recorded of the 17th century. The twelve accused lived in the area around Pendle Hill in Lancashire, and were charged with the murders of ten people by the use of witchcraft. All but two were tried at Lancaster Assizes on 18–19 August 1612, along with the Samlesbury witches and others, in a series of trials that have become known as the Lancashire witch trials. One was tried at York Assizes on 27 July 1612, and another died in prison. Of the eleven individuals who went to trial—nine women and two men—ten were found guilty and executed by hanging and one was found not guilty. The trials were unusual for England at that time in two respects: the official publication of the proceedings by the clerk to the court, Thomas Potts, in his The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, and in the number of witches hanged together: ten at Lancaster and one at York. (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

Cream Holdings Ltd v Banerjee and the Liverpool Post and Echo Ltd was a 2004 decision by the House of Lords on the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998 on freedom of expression. The Act, particularly Section 12, cautioned the courts to only grant remedies that would restrict publication before trial where it is "likely" that the trial will establish that the publication would not be allowed. Banerjee, an accountant with Cream Holdings, obtained documents which she claimed contained evidence of illegal and unsound practices on Cream's part and gave them to the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo, who ran a series of articles on 13 and 14 June 2002 asserting that a director of Cream had been bribing a local council official in Liverpool. Cream applied for an emergency injunction on 18 June in the High Court of Justice, where a judge decided on 5 July that Cream had shown "a real prospect of success" at trial, granting the injunction. This judgment was confirmed by the Court of Appeal on 13 February 2003. Leave was given to appeal to the House of Lords, where a judgment was given on 14 October 2004 by Lord Nicholls, with the other judges assenting. In it, Nicholls said that the test required by the Human Rights Act, "more likely than not", was a higher standard than "a real prospect of success", and that the Act "makes the likelihood of success at the trial an essential element in the court's consideration of whether to make an interim order", asserting that in similar cases courts should be reluctant to grant interim injunctions unless it can be shown that the claimant is "more likely than not" to succeed. At the same time, he admitted that the "real prospect of success" test was not necessarily insufficient, granting the appeal nonetheless because the High Court had ignored the public interest element of the disclosure. As the first confidentiality case brought after the Human Rights Act, Cream is the leading case used in British "breach of confidentiality" cases. (more...)

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The Bench (c. 1758)
Credit: William Hogarth
The Bench (c. 1758)

Selected legislation

The Defective Premises Act 1972 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that covers landlords' and builders' liability for poorly constructed and poorly maintained buildings, along with any injuries that may result. During the 19th century, the common law principle that a landlord could not be liable for letting a poorly maintained house was established, while a long-running principle was that, in practice, builders could not be sued for constructing defective buildings. The courts began to turn against the first principle during the 20th century, imposing several restrictions on the landlord's immunity, but the landlord was still largely free from being sued. The Defective Premises Bill was introduced to the House of Commons as a private member's bill by Ivor Richard on 1 December 1971, and given the Royal Assent on 29 June 1972, coming into force as the Defective Premises Act 1972 on 1 January 1974. The Act establishes a duty of care builders and their sub-contractors owe to the occupiers of property they construct or modify, and also establishes a duty of care landlords hold towards their tenants and any third parties who might be injured by their failure to maintain or repair property. The Act (which is still in force) received a mixed reaction from critics; while some complimented it on its simple nature compared to the previously complex common rule laws, others felt that it was too limited for what was desired to be achieved, and that the wording used was at times both too vague and too specific. (more...)

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Mervyn Griffith-Jones, prosecuting counsel, during his speech to the jury in the Lady Chatterley's Lover obscenity trial (1960)

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