Portal:Law

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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 black and white photograph of King George and Queen Elizabeth seated on thrones

Royal assent is the method by which a monarch formally approves an act of the legislature, either directly or through an official acting on the monarch's behalf. In some jurisdictions, royal assent is equivalent to promulgation, while in others that is a separate step. Under a modern constitutional monarchy, royal assent is considered little more than a formality. Even in nations such as the United Kingdom, Norway and Liechtenstein which still, in theory, permit their Monarch to withhold assent to laws, the Monarch almost never does so, except in a dire political emergency or on advice of government. While the power to veto by withholding royal assent was once exercised often by European monarchs, such an occurrence has been very rare since the eighteenth century.

Royal assent is typically associated with elaborate ceremony. In the United Kingdom the Sovereign may appear personally in the House of Lords or may appoint Lords Commissioners, who announce that royal assent has been granted at a ceremony held at the Palace of Westminster for this purpose. However, royal assent is usually granted less ceremonially by letters patent. In other nations, such as Australia, the governor-general (as the Monarch's representative) merely signs a bill. In Canada, the governor general may give assent either in person at a ceremony in the Senate or by a written declaration notifying Parliament of their agreement to the bill. (Full article...) (more...)

Selected biography

painting of a man in a red judicial robe

Sir William Blackstone SL KC (10 July 1723 – 14 February 1780) was an English jurist, judge and Tory politician of the eighteenth century. He is most noted for writing the Commentaries on the Laws of England. Born into a middle-class family in London, Blackstone was educated at Charterhouse School before matriculating at Pembroke College, Oxford, in 1738. After switching to and completing a Bachelor of Civil Law degree, he was made a fellow of All Souls, Oxford, on 2 November 1743, admitted to Middle Temple, and called to the Bar there in 1746. Following a slow start to his career as a barrister, Blackstone became heavily involved in university administration, becoming accountant, treasurer and bursar on 28 November 1746 and Senior Bursar in 1750. Blackstone is considered responsible for completing the Codrington Library and Warton Building, and simplifying the complex accounting system used by the college. On 3 July 1753 he formally gave up his practice as a barrister and instead embarked on a series of lectures on English law, the first of their kind. These were massively successful, earning him a total of £453 (£71,000 in 2021 terms), and led to the publication of An Analysis of the Laws of England in 1756, which repeatedly sold out and was used to preface his later works.

On 20 October 1759 Blackstone was confirmed as the first Vinerian Professor of English Law, immediately embarking on another series of lectures and publishing a similarly successful second treatise, titled A Discourse on the Study of the Law. With his growing fame, he successfully returned to the bar and maintained a good practice, also securing election as Tory Member of Parliament for the rotten borough of Hindon on 30 March 1761. In November 1765 he published the first of four volumes of Commentaries on the Laws of England, considered his magnum opus; the completed work earned Blackstone £14,000 (£1,961,000 in 2021 terms). After repeated failures, he successfully gained appointment to the judiciary as a Justice of the Court of King's Bench on 16 February 1770, leaving to replace Edward Clive as a Justice of the Common Pleas on 25 June. He remained in this position until his death, on 14 February 1780.

Blackstone's four-volume Commentaries were designed to provide a complete overview of English law and were repeatedly republished in 1770, 1773, 1774, 1775, 1778 and in a posthumous edition in 1783. Reprints of the first edition, intended for practical use rather than antiquary interest, were published until the 1870s in England and Wales, and a working version by Henry John Stephen, first published in 1841, was reprinted until after the Second World War. Legal education in England had stalled; Blackstone's work gave the law "at least a veneer of scholarly respectability". William Searle Holdsworth, one of Blackstone's successors as Vinerian Professor, argued that "If the Commentaries had not been written when they were written, I think it very doubtful that the United States, and other English speaking countries would have so universally adopted the common law." In the United States, the Commentaries influenced Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall, James Wilson, John Jay, John Adams, James Kent and Abraham Lincoln, and remain frequently cited in Supreme Court decisions. (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. Furthermore, by the end of the first year of fighting, the Regular Reserve and the Militia Reserve had been entirely exhausted. (Regular reservists were members of the Regular Army who had retired from the active-duty portion of their service but remained available for the callout. The Militia Reserve was a pool of individuals within the Militia, who accepted an overseas service liability). There had been no thought before the war about the wider use of 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.

Despite his efforts, several groups vocally opposed his approach: first, the National Service League, led by Field Marshal Lord Roberts, and backed by retired senior officers and some Conservative MPs. They argued that auxiliary forces would be ineffective against Continental armies, even, at one point, enlisting the support of the king. At the same time, the Labour Party members generally opposed any increase in military strength. Further opposition came from protagonists of the existing system, especially the militia. In the face of all these forces, Haldane made a series of last-minute changes to the bill when he presented it in March 2007, including restricting compulsory service to Home defence only. Nevertheless, the structure remained much larger than was likely to be necessary for home defence and included all the supporting arms and services for the planned fourteen full divisions and he commented that ‘they could go abroad if they wish.’ The bill was put before the Commons on 4 March, then debated in late March and throughout April, where it received prolific but disorganised opposition, mainly from partisans of the existing system. It had its third reading in June, passing with a comfortable majority, and received the Royal Assent in August; the Act became effective immediately, though the bulk of its reforms were scheduled to begin on 1 April 1908. (Full article...) (more...)


Did you know...

  • ... that, in the cases of Klayman v. Obama and ACLU v. Clapper, US district courts issued conflicting rulings on the constitutionality of bulk data collection by the US government?
  • ... that in 2011, Nitehawk Cinema successfully lobbied to overturn a Prohibition-era liquor law that prevented movie theaters in New York from serving alcohol?

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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:



Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that U.S. state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools are unconstitutional, even if the segregated schools are otherwise equal in quality. Handed down on May 17, 1954, the Court's unanimous (9–0) decision stated that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal", and therefore violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, the decision's 14 pages did not spell out any sort of method for ending racial segregation in schools, and the Court's second decision in Brown II (349 U.S. 294 (1955)) only ordered states to desegregate "with all deliberate speed".

The case originated in 1951 when the public school district in Topeka, Kansas, refused to enroll the daughter of local black resident Oliver Brown at the school closest to their home, instead requiring her to ride a bus to a segregated black elementary school farther away. Unlike school districts of other states involved in the combined case, in Topeka the lower courts, while still requiring certain remedies, had found that the segregated schools were "substantially equal with respect to buildings, transportation, curricula, and educational qualifications of teachers." Hence with the involvement of the Kansas case the Supreme Court's findings specifically hinged upon the matter of segregation. (Full article...) (more...)


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