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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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

Statue of Hubert Walter

Hubert Walter (circa 1160 – 1205) was an influential royal adviser in the late 12th and early 13th centuries in the positions of chief justiciar of England, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Lord Chancellor. As chancellor (1199–1205), Walter began the keeping of the Charter Roll, a record of all charters issued by the chancery. Walter was not noted for his holiness in life or learning, but historians have judged him one of the most outstanding government ministers in English history. Walter owed his early advancement to his uncle Ranulf de Glanvill, who helped him become a clerk of the Exchequer. Walter was elected Bishop of Salisbury shortly after the accession of King Henry's son Richard I to the throne of England. He accompanied King Richard on the Third Crusade, and was involved in raising Richard's ransom after the king was captured in Germany. As a reward for his faithful service, Walter was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1193. He also served as Richard's justiciar until 1198, and set up a system which was the precursor for the modern justices of the peace, based on selecting four knights in each hundred to administer justice. (more...)

Selected case

Motte v Faulkner (decided 28 November 1735) was a copyright lawsuit between Benjamin Motte and George Faulkner over who had the legal rights to publish the works of Jonathan Swift in London. This trial was one of the first to test the Statute of Anne copyright law in regards to Irish publishing independence. Although neither held the copyright to all of Swift's works, the suit became a legal struggle over Irish rights, which were eventually denied by the English courts. Faulkner, in 1735, published the Works of Jonathan Swift in Dublin. However, a few of the works were under Motte's copyright within the Kingdom of Great Britain, and when Faulkner sought to sell his book in London, Motte issued a formal complaint to Jonathan Swift and then proceeded to sue Faulkner. An injunction was issued in Motte's favor, and the book was prohibited from being sold on British soil. The basis of the law protected the rights of the author, and not the publisher, of the works, and Swift was unwilling to support a lawsuit against Faulkner. With Swift's reaction used as a basis, the lawsuit was later seen as a struggle between the rights of Irishmen to print material that were denied under English law. (more...)

Selected picture

Thomas More was a leading counsellor to Henry VIII and served as Lord Chancellor from 1529 to 1532. He was imprisoned and beheaded in 1535 after he had fallen out of favour with the king over his refusal to sign the Act of Supremacy 1534.
Credit: Hans Holbein the Younger
Thomas More was a leading counsellor to Henry VIII and served as Lord Chancellor from 1529 to 1532. He was imprisoned and beheaded in 1535 after he had fallen out of favour with the king over his refusal to sign the Act of Supremacy 1534.

Selected legislation

Nantwich workhouse
The English Poor Laws were a system of poor relief that developed out of late medieval and Tudor laws before being codified in 1587–98. Legislation was passed in 1536 to deal with the impotent poor, although there is earlier Tudor legislation dealing with the problems caused by vagrants and beggars. The history of the Poor Law in England and Wales is usually divided between two statutes, the "Old Poor Law" passed during the reign of Elizabeth I and the "New Poor Law", passed in 1834, which significantly modified the existing system. The later statute altered it from one which was administered haphazardly at a local parish level to a highly centralised system which encouraged the large scale development of workhouses (example pictured) by Poor Law Unions. The Poor Law system was not formally abolished until the 1948 National Assistance Act, with parts of the law remaining on the statute book until 1967. The Poor Law system fell into decline at the beginning of the 20th century due to several factors, such as introduction of the Liberal welfare reforms and the availability of other sources of assistance from friendly societies and trade unions, as well as piecemeal reforms which bypassed the Poor Law system. (more...)

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From Wikipedia's "Did You Know" archives:

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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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