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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Staple Inn
The Inns of Chancery were a group of buildings and legal institutions in London, initially attached to the Inns of Court and used as offices for the clerks of chancery, from which they drew their name. Existing from at least 1344, the Inns gradually changed their purpose, and became both the offices and accommodation for solicitors (as the Inns of Court were to barristers) and a place of initial training for barristers. The practice of training barristers at the Inns of Chancery had died out by 1642, and the Inns instead became dedicated associations and offices for solicitors. With the founding of the Society of Gentlemen Practisers in 1739 and the Law Society of England and Wales in 1825, a single unified professional association for solicitors, the purpose of the Inns died out, and after a long period of decline the last one (Clement's Inn) was sold in 1903 and demolished in 1934. The only buildings to survive largely intact are those of Staple Inn (pictured). (more...)

Selected biography

Claud Schuster, 1st Baron Schuster (1869–1956) was a British barrister and civil servant noted for his long tenure as Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor's Office. Schuster studied history at New College, Oxford before joining the Inner Temple to become a barrister. Practising in Liverpool, Schuster was not particularly successful, and he joined Her Majesty's Civil Service in 1899 as secretary to the Chief Commissioner of the Local Government Act Commission. After serving as secretary to several more commissions, he was made Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor's Office in 1915. Schuster served in this position for twenty-nine years under ten different Lord Chancellors, and was called "one of the most influential Permanent Secretaries of the 20th century". His influence led to criticism and suspicions that he was a "power behind the throne", which culminated in a verbal attack by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Hewart in 1934 during a session of the House of Lords. Schuster retired in 1944 and was made Baron Schuster, of Cerne, in the County of Dorset. Despite being officially retired he continued to work in government circles, such as with the Allied Commission for Austria and by using his seat in the House of Lords as a way to criticise legislation directly. (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...)

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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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I ... do swear that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth in the office of ... and I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will. So help me God.
Judicial oath, as sworn by judges on their appointment, from the Promissory Oaths Act 1868.

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