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The Law Portal

Lady Justice, often used as a personification of the law, holding a sword in one scales in the other.

Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior, with its precise definition a matter of longstanding debate. It has been variously described as a science and the art of justice. State-enforced laws can be made by a group legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or established by judges through precedent, usually in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals may create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that adopt alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation. The creation of laws themselves may be influenced by a constitution, written or tacit, and the rights encoded therein. The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people.

Legal systems vary between countries, with their differences analysed in comparative law. In civil law jurisdictions, a legislature or other central body codifies and consolidates the law. In common law systems, judges make binding case law through precedent, although on occasion this may be overturned by a higher court or the legislature. Historically, religious law influenced secular matters, and is still used in some religious communities. Sharia law based on Islamic principles is used as the primary legal system in several countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Law's scope can be divided into two domains. Public law concerns government and society, including constitutional law, administrative law, and criminal law. Private law deals with legal disputes between individuals and/or organisations in areas such as contracts, property, torts/delicts and commercial law. This distinction is stronger in civil law countries, particularly those with a separate system of administrative courts; by contrast, the public-private law divide is less pronounced in common law jurisdictions.

Law provides a source of scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. Law also raises important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness, and justice. (Full article...)

Selected article

A crowd of people, some waving rainbow flags or holding placards

Same-sex marriage in Spain has been legal since July 3, 2005. A year prior, in 2004, the nation's newly elected government, led by Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of the Socialist Workers' Party, began a campaign to make same-sex marriage legal, including the right of adoption by same-sex couples. After much debate, a law permitting same-sex marriage was passed by the Cortes Generales (the Spanish Parliament, composed of the Senate and the Congress of Deputies) on 30 June 2005 and published on 2 July. The law took effect the next day, making Spain the third country in the world to allow same-sex couples to marry on a national level, after the Netherlands and Belgium, and 17 days ahead of the right being extended across all of Canada.

The ratification of this law was not devoid of conflict, despite support from 66% of the population. Roman Catholic authorities in particular were adamantly opposed, criticising what they regarded as the weakening of the meaning of marriage. Other associations expressed concern over the possibility of lesbian and gay couples adopting children. Demonstrations for and against the law drew thousands of people from all parts of Spain. After its approval, the conservative People's Party challenged the law in the Constitutional Court.

Approximately 4,500 same-sex couples married in Spain during the first year of the law. Shortly after the law was passed, questions arose about the legal status of marriage to non-Spaniards whose country did not permit same-sex marriage. A ruling from the Justice Ministry stated that the country's same-sex marriage law allows a Spanish citizen to marry a non-Spaniard regardless of whether that person's homeland recognizes the partnership. At least one partner must be a Spanish citizen in order to marry, although two non-Spaniards may marry if they both have legal residence in Spain. (Full article...) (more...)

Selected biography

A photograph of Antonin Scalia

Antonin Gregory Scalia (/ˌæntənɪn skəˈlə/ (About this soundlisten); March 11, 1936 – February 13, 2016) was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1986 until his death in 2016. He was described as the intellectual anchor for the originalist and textualist position in the Court's conservative wing. For catalyzing an originalist and textualist movement in American law, he has been described as one of the most influential jurists of the twentieth century, and one of the most important justices in the Supreme Court's history. Scalia was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018, and the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University was named in his honor.

Scalia was born in Trenton, New Jersey. A devout Catholic, he received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University. He then obtained his law degree from Harvard Law School and spent six years in a Cleveland law firm before becoming a law professor at the University of Virginia. In the early 1970s, he served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, eventually becoming an Assistant Attorney General. He spent most of the Carter years teaching at the University of Chicago, where he became one of the first faculty advisers of the fledgling Federalist Society. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed Scalia as a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In 1986, he was appointed to the Supreme Court by Reagan and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, becoming the Court's first Italian-American justice.

Scalia espoused a conservative jurisprudence and ideology, advocating textualism in statutory interpretation and originalism in constitutional interpretation. He peppered his colleagues with "Ninograms" (memos named for his nickname, "Nino") which sought to persuade them to agree with his point of view. He was a strong defender of the powers of the executive branch. He believed that the Constitution permitted the death penalty and did not guarantee the right to abortion or same-sex marriage. Furthermore, Scalia viewed affirmative action and other policies that afforded special protected status to minority groups as unconstitutional. These positions earned him a reputation as one of the most conservative justices on the Court. He filed separate opinions in many cases, often castigating the Court's majority using scathing language. Scalia's most significant opinions include his lone dissent in Morrison v. Olson (arguing against the constitutionality of an Independent-Counsel law), his majority opinion in Crawford v. Washington (defining a criminal defendant's confrontation right under the 6th Amendment), and his majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller (holding that the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to individual handgun ownership). (Full article...) (more...)

What is a statute?

A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs the legal entities of a city, state, or country by way of consent. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy. Statutes are rules made by legislative bodies; they are distinguished from case law or precedent, which is decided by courts, and regulations issued by government agencies. (Full article...) Learn more about statutes...

Following is an example of a noted statute or comparable written law:



The Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 (7 Edw. 7, c.9) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that reformed the auxiliary forces of the British Army by transferring existing Volunteer and Yeomanry units into a new Territorial Force (TF); and disbanding the Militia to form a new Special Reserve of the Regular Army. This reorganisation formed a major part of the Haldane Reforms, named after the creator of the Act, Richard Haldane.

The lessons learned during the South African War of 1899-1902 had reinforced the idea that the regular Army was not capable of fighting a prolonged full-scale war without significant assistance; almost all regular units in the United Kingdom had been deployed overseas within four months of the outbreak of hostilities, and the entire pool of reserve manpower had been exhausted in under a year. There had been no thought before the war to using auxiliary forces overseas; in the event, volunteers had been used on an ad-hoc basis, and a new auxiliary arm (the Imperial Yeomanry) was formed to provide specialist troops, but it was clear that a more effective system was required in future. A number of attempts at reform under the Conservative government of 1901-1905 had failed to make any lasting changes to the system, and left the auxiliary forces disorganised and demoralised.

The Act was divided into three main sections; the first created "County Associations", which would be the local bodies which would administer and support the Territorial units - they would, however, have no military control over them when called out for service. The second section reformed the existing Volunteers and Yeomanry into the newly created Territorial Force, whilst the third dissolved the Militia and in its place created the Special Reserve, to be composed of men who had not previously served in the regular Army. (Full article...) (more...)


Did you know...

Aerial photograph of an island.

  • ... that in the Bancoult litigation, the English courts and government first decided that the Chagossians could return home (pictured), then that they couldn't, then that they could, and then that they couldn't?

Selected images

What is case law?

Case law is the collection of past legal decisions written by courts and similar tribunals in the course of deciding cases, in which the law was analyzed using these cases to resolve ambiguities for deciding current cases. These past decisions are called "case law", or precedent. Stare decisis—a Latin phrase meaning "let the decision stand"—is the principle by which judges are bound to such past decisions. These judicial interpretations are distinguished from statutory law, which are codes enacted by legislative bodies, and regulatory law, which are established by executive agencies based on statutes. In some jurisdictions, case law can be applied to ongoing adjudication; for example, criminal proceedings or family law.

In common law countries (including the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), the term case law is a near-exact synonym for common law. It is used for judicial decisions of selected appellate courts, courts of first instance, agency tribunals, and other bodies discharging adjudicatory functions. (Full article...)

Learn more about case law...

For examples of noted cases, see Lists of case law. Following is one example of such a noted case:


A photograph on the left shows a thin man with a small moustache; a photograph on the right shows a large man with a beard but no moustache; the central image is the blended product of these images

The Tichborne case was a legal cause célèbre that captivated Victorian England in the 1860s and 1870s. It concerned the claims by a man sometimes referred to as Thomas Castro or as Arthur Orton, but usually termed "the Claimant", to be the missing heir to the Tichborne baronetcy. He failed to convince the courts, was convicted of perjury and served a long prison sentence.

Roger Tichborne, heir to the family's title and fortunes, was presumed to have died in a shipwreck in 1854 at age 25. His mother clung to a belief that he might have survived, and after hearing rumours that he had made his way to Australia, she advertised extensively in Australian newspapers, offering a reward for information. In 1866, a Wagga Wagga butcher known as Thomas Castro came forward claiming to be Roger Tichborne. Although his manners and bearing were unrefined, he gathered support and travelled to England. He was instantly accepted by Lady Tichborne as her son, although other family members were dismissive and sought to expose him as an impostor.

During protracted enquiries before the case went to court in 1871, details emerged suggesting that the Claimant might be Arthur Orton, a butcher's son from Wapping in London, who had gone to sea as a boy and had last been heard of in Australia. After a civil court had rejected the Claimant's case, he was charged with perjury; while awaiting trial he campaigned throughout the country to gain popular support. In 1874, a criminal court jury decided that he was not Roger Tichborne and declared him to be Arthur Orton. Before passing a sentence of 14 years, the judge condemned the behaviour of the Claimant's counsel, Edward Kenealy, who was subsequently disbarred because of his conduct. (Full article...) (more...)


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