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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A Quistclose trust is a trust created where a creditor has lent money to a debtor for a particular purpose. In the event that the debtor uses the money for any other purpose, it is held on trust for the creditor. Any inappropriately spent money can then be traced, and returned to the creditors. The name and trust comes from the House of Lords decision in Barclays Bank Ltd v Quistclose Investments Ltd (1970), although the underlying principles can be traced back further. There has been much academic debate over the classification of Quistclose trusts in existing trusts law: whether they are resulting trusts, express trusts, constructive trusts or, as Lord Millett said in 2002 in the case of Twinsectra Ltd v Yardley, illusory trusts. On Millett's approach, the trust is created by the intention of either party, and is revocable at any time. The problems with this idea are that the facts in Quistclose are not those of a normal illusory trust, and Millett failed to consider the mutual intention of the parties and any underlying contracts. (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

Captain Thomas Baillie

R v Baillie, also known as the "Greenwich Hospital Case', was a 1778 prosecution of Thomas Baillie (pictured) for criminal libel which launched the legal career of Thomas Erskine. Baillie, the Lieutenant-Governor of the Greenwich Hospital for Seamen, had noted irregularities and corruption in the hospital, which was formally run by the Earl of Sandwich. Unable to bring about reform, Baillie published a pamphlet alleging that Sandwich had given appointments to pay off political debts. Charged with criminal libel, Baillie hired five barristers, including Erskine, then newly called to the Bar. In his speech, Erskine accused Sandwich of cowardice and argued that Baillie was merely doing his duty by attempting to bring the problems with the hospital into the public eye. Erskine was successful in having Baillie found not guilty, and after leaving the court was met with a standing ovation; Emory Speer writes that "It is probably true that never did a single speech so completely insure professional success". (more...)

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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

The Statute of Monopolies was an Act of the Parliament of England notable as the first statutory expression of English patent law. Patents evolved from letters patent, issued by the monarch to grant monopolies over particular industries to skilled individuals with new techniques. Originally intended to strengthen England's economy by making it self-sufficient and promoting new industries, the system gradually became seen as a way to raise money (through charging patent-holders) without having to incur the public unpopularity of a tax. Elizabeth I was a great abuser of the system, issuing patents for common commodities such as starch and salt. Unrest eventually persuaded her to turn the administration of patents over to the common law courts, but her successor, James I, was even more abusive. Despite a committee established to investigate grievances and excesses, Parliament made several efforts to further curtail the monarch's power. The result was the Statute of Monopolies, passed on 25 May 1624. The statute repealed all past and future patents and monopolies, except those created in the future over completely novel inventions. Seen as a key moment in the evolution of patent law, the statute (which has been replaced by later legislation) has also been described as "one of the landmarks in the transition of [England's] economy from the feudal to the capitalist". (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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