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

Law is a set of rules that are created and are enforceable by 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 as 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 also serves as a mediator of relations between people.

Legal systems vary between jurisdictions, 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 may make binding case law through precedent, although on occasion this may be overturned by a higher court or the legislature. Historically, religious law has influenced secular matters and is, as of the 21st century, still in use 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.

The scope of law can be divided into two domains: public law concerns government and society, including constitutional law, administrative law, and criminal law; while private law deals with legal disputes between parties 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. (Full article...)

Selected article

Douglas sits facing slightly to the left, but with his blue eyes, wrinkled face and white head of hair looking to the right of the painting. He has a piece of paper in his right hand.

A total of 116 people have served on the Supreme Court of the United States, the highest judicial body in the United States, since it was established in 1789. Supreme Court justices have life tenure, meaning that they serve until they die, resign, retire, or are impeached and removed from office. For the 107 non-incumbent justices, the average length of service was 6,203 days (16 years, 359 days). The longest serving justice was William O. Douglas, with a tenure of 13,358 days (36 years, 209 days). The longest serving chief justice was John Marshall, with a tenure of 12,570 days (34 years, 152 days). John Rutledge, who served on the court twice, was both the shortest serving associate justice, with a tenure of 383 days (1 year, 18 days), and the shortest serving chief justice, with a tenure of 138 days (4 months 16 days). Among the current members of the court, Clarence Thomas's tenure of 11,929 days (32 years, 241 days) is the longest, while Ketanji Brown Jackson's 721 days (1 year, 356 days) is the shortest.

The table below ranks all United States Supreme Court justices by time in office. For five individuals confirmed for associate justice, and who later served as chief justice—Charles Evans Hughes, William Rehnquist, John Rutledge, Harlan F. Stone, and Edward Douglass White—their cumulative length of service on the court is measured. The basis of the ranking is the difference between dates; if counted by number of calendar days all the figures would be one greater, with the exception of Charles Evans Hughes and John Rutledge, who would receive two days, as each served on the court twice (their service as associate justice and as chief justice was separated by a period of years off the court). The start date given for each justice is the day they took the prescribed oath of office, with the end date being the date of the justice's death, resignation, or retirement. A highlighted row indicates a justice currently serving on the court. (Full article...)

Selected biography

Sir Nicholas Fuller (1543 – 23 February 1620) was an English barrister and Member of Parliament. After studying at Christ's College, Cambridge, Fuller became a barrister of Gray's Inn. His legal career there began prosperously—he was employed by the Privy Council to examine witnesses—but was hampered later by his representation of the Puritans, a religious tendency which did not conform with the established Church of England. Fuller was repeatedly in contention with the ecclesiastical courts, including the Star Chamber and Court of High Commission, and was once expelled for the zeal with which he defended his client. In 1593 he was returned as the Member of Parliament for St Mawes, where he campaigned against the extension of recusancy laws. Outside of Parliament, he successfully brought a patents case which not only undermined the right of the Crown to issue patents but accurately predicted the attitude taken by the Statute of Monopolies two decades later.

Returned to Parliament in 1604 for the City of London, Fuller became considered the "leader of the opposition" due to his conflict with the government over policy, fighting the impositions on currants, the patent on blue starch, and opposing the proposed union with Scotland on legal and economic grounds. In 1607, in what became known as Fuller's Case, he again began challenging the Court of High Commission, and eventually got the Court of Common Pleas under Sir Edward Coke to agree that the common law courts had the power to free imprisoned ecclesiastical prisoners. These encounters with the ecclesiastical courts were described as "bruising", but by 1610 he was considered an "elder statesman", introducing bills on ecclesiastical reform and the statutory management of customs duties. He continued to sit in Parliament until his death on 23 February 1620. (Full article...)

Selected statute

A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative body, a stage in the process of legislation. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy. Statutes are laws made by legislative bodies; they are distinguished from case law or precedent, which is decided by courts, regulations issued by government agencies, and oral or customary law.[better source needed] Statutes may originate with the legislative body of a country, state or province, county, or municipality. (Full article...)


The Limitation Act 1963 (c. 47) was an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that amended the statute of limitations to allow actions in some cases where the injured party had not discovered the injury until after the standard date of expiration. The Act was based on the report of the Davies Committee on Limitation of Actions in Cases of Personal Injury, created after the Court of Appeal decision in the case of Cartledge v Jopling, and the Committee notably produced their final report before Cartledge had been heard in the House of Lords. The draft bill was presented to Parliament on 6 May 1963; it was given the Royal Assent on 31 July and came into force on the same day.

The act allowed an injured party to bring a claim outside the normal statute of limitations period if he could show that he was not aware of the injuries himself until after the limitation period had expired and if he gained the permission of the court. After a series of problems emerged, including vagueness on a point even the House of Lords was unable to clarify and poor draftsmanship, the Act was repealed bit by bit during the 1970s, with the Limitation Act 1980 scrapping the last remaining sections. (Full article...)

Did you know...

Photographs of a woman standing at a podium and gesturing.

  • ... that Dutch physician Aletta Jacobs legal challenge to be added to the Amsterdam electoral rolls backfired, leading to a constitutional amendment granting voting rights only to men?
  • ... that when Henry McCardie was a barrister, he often worked so late that his chambers were nicknamed "the lighthouse", as there was light coming from the windows?
  • ... that the diaries of James Humphreys, the "Emperor of Porn", were used to convict 13 policemen of accepting his bribes?

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Selected case

Case law, also used interchangeably with common law, is a law that is based on precedents, that is the judicial decisions from previous cases, rather than law based on constitutions, statutes, or regulations. Case law uses the detailed facts of a legal case that have been resolved by courts or similar tribunals. 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, drawing on established judicial authority to formulate their positions. (Full article...)


Cambridge Water Co Ltd v Eastern Counties Leather plc [1994] 1 All ER 53 is a case in English tort law that established the principle that claims under nuisance and Rylands v Fletcher must include a requirement that the damage be foreseeable; it also suggested that Rylands was a sub-set of nuisance rather than an independent tort, a debate eventually laid to rest in Transco plc v Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council.

The Cambridge Water Company were a company responsible for providing potable water to the inhabitants of Cambridge and the surrounding areas. In 1976, they purchased a borehole outside Sawston to deal with rising demand. In 1980, a European Directive was issued requiring nations of the European Community to establish standards on the presence of perchloroethene (PCE) in water, which the United Kingdom did in 1982. It was found that the Sawston borehole was contaminated with PCE that had originated in a tannery owned by Eastern Counties Leather. Prior to 1980, there was no knowledge that PCE should be avoided or that it could cause harm, but the Cambridge Water Company brought a case against Eastern Counties Leather anyway.

The case first went to the High Court of Justice, where Kennedy J dismissed claims under nuisance, negligence and Rylands v Fletcher because the harm was not foreseeable. His decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal of England and Wales, who cited an "obscure decision" to justify doing so. The case then went to the House of Lords, where a decision was read by Lord Goff on 9 December 1993. Goff first countered the Court of Appeal decision, restoring Kennedy's dismissal of the case, before moving on to the deeper legal points. Based on the original decision in Rylands, Goff argued that it had always been intended for foreseeability of harm to be a factor, something not previously put into law by the English judiciary. He then stated that Rylands was arguably a sub-set of nuisance, not an independent tort, and as such the factors which led him to including a test of foreseeability of harm in Rylands cases also imposed such a test on all nuisance cases.

The decision in Cambridge Water Co made an immediate change to the law, for the first time requiring foreseeability of harm to be considered in cases brought under Rylands v Fletcher and the general tort of nuisance. It was also significant in implying that Rylands was not an independent tort, something later concluded in the Transco case. Goff's judgment has been criticised on several points by academics, who highlight flaws in wording which leave parts of the judgment ambiguous and a selective assessment of Rylands that ignores outside influences. (Full article...)

More Did you know (auto-generated)

  • ... that until a 1982 legal decision, women were not permitted to stand at the bar at El Vino in London?
  • ... that 90 percent of Indonesia's village-owned enterprises are not legal entities, hampering their ability to attract investors or open bank accounts?
  • ... that the presence of illegal colleges in Saumlaki was compared to "mushrooms growing in the rainy season"?
  • ... that since being left vacant the grade II–listed Occleshaw House in Leyland, Lancashire, has been used as an illegal cannabis farm and suffered a suspected arson attack?
  • ... that the pseudonymous manga artist Junichi Yamakawa never disclosed to his editor his legal name, address, or contact information?
  • ... that despite being legally available in most cases, abortion in Taiwan is still criminalized under the penal code?

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