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Portal:Law of England and Wales

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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...)

Selected article

The bilingual (Welsh and English) sign at Pontypridd County Court
The system of county courts in England and Wales dates back to the County Courts Act 1846, which received Royal Assent on 28 August 1846 and was brought into force on 15 March 1847. England and Wales (with the exception of the City of London, which was outside the scope of the Act) were divided into 60 circuits, with a total of 491 county courts within these circuits. The then Lord Chancellor, Lord Cottenham, wanted everyone to be within seven miles of a court, and the final scheme came close to that aim. One county court judge was appointed to each circuit, assisted by one or more registrars with some limited judicial powers, and would travel between the courts in his area as necessary, sitting in each court at least once a month. Few permanent courts were needed initially, given the infrequency of court hearings, and temporary accommodation such as a town hall would often be used where there was no existing courthouse for use. The judicial business of the county courts is now carried out by circuit judges (a term introduced by the Courts Act 1971) and district judges (as the post of registrar was renamed by section 74 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990). (more...)

Selected biography

Thomas Jefferson Hogg
Thomas Jefferson Hogg (1792–1862) was a British barrister and writer best known for his friendship with the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. They became friends while studying at University College, Oxford, and remained close until Shelley's death. They collaborated on several literary projects at Oxford, culminating in their joint expulsion following the publication of one controversial treatise. Hogg became a barrister and met Jane Williams, who became his common law wife; they had two children together. The family settled in London, although Hogg's legal career meant that he often had to travel away from home. While living in London Hogg made the acquaintance of several well-known writers, and he published literary works of his own, including two entries on Greek literature in the Encyclopædia Britannica. His best-known work was The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, an unfinished biography of the poet, criticised for portraying him negatively. Hogg received an appointment to a government commission on municipal corporations and became a revising barrister. His legal career was moderately successful, but he was often frustrated by his failure to attain his goal of becoming a professor or judge. (more...)

Selected case

Cream Holdings Ltd v Banerjee and the Liverpool Post and Echo Ltd was a 2004 decision by the House of Lords on the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998 on freedom of expression. The Act, particularly Section 12, cautioned the courts to only grant remedies that would restrict publication before trial where it is "likely" that the trial will establish that the publication would not be allowed. Banerjee, an accountant with Cream Holdings, obtained documents which she claimed contained evidence of illegal and unsound practices on Cream's part and gave them to the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo, who ran a series of articles on 13 and 14 June 2002 asserting that a director of Cream had been bribing a local council official in Liverpool. Cream applied for an emergency injunction on 18 June in the High Court of Justice, where a judge decided on 5 July that Cream had shown "a real prospect of success" at trial, granting the injunction. This judgment was confirmed by the Court of Appeal on 13 February 2003. Leave was given to appeal to the House of Lords, where a judgment was given on 14 October 2004 by Lord Nicholls, with the other judges assenting. In it, Nicholls said that the test required by the Human Rights Act, "more likely than not", was a higher standard than "a real prospect of success", and that the Act "makes the likelihood of success at the trial an essential element in the court's consideration of whether to make an interim order", asserting that in similar cases courts should be reluctant to grant interim injunctions unless it can be shown that the claimant is "more likely than not" to succeed. At the same time, he admitted that the "real prospect of success" test was not necessarily insufficient, granting the appeal nonetheless because the High Court had ignored the public interest element of the disclosure. As the first confidentiality case brought after the Human Rights Act, Cream is the leading case used in British "breach of confidentiality" cases. (more...)

Selected picture

Sir George Jessel, Master of the Rolls 1873–1883, captioned as "The Law"
Credit: Leslie Ward ("Spy") in Vanity Fair (1879)
Sir George Jessel, Master of the Rolls 1873–1883, captioned as "The Law"

Selected legislation

Nantwich workhouse
The English Poor Laws were a system of poor relief that developed out of late medieval and Tudor laws before being codified in 1587–98. Legislation was passed in 1536 to deal with the impotent poor, although there is earlier Tudor legislation dealing with the problems caused by vagrants and beggars. The history of the Poor Law in England and Wales is usually divided between two statutes, the "Old Poor Law" passed during the reign of Elizabeth I and the "New Poor Law", passed in 1834, which significantly modified the existing system. The later statute altered it from one which was administered haphazardly at a local parish level to a highly centralised system which encouraged the large scale development of workhouses (example pictured) by Poor Law Unions. The Poor Law system was not formally abolished until the 1948 National Assistance Act, with parts of the law remaining on the statute book until 1967. The Poor Law system fell into decline at the beginning of the 20th century due to several factors, such as introduction of the Liberal welfare reforms and the availability of other sources of assistance from friendly societies and trade unions, as well as piecemeal reforms which bypassed the Poor Law system. (more...)

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Legislative and constitutional system

Constitution • Parliament • House of Commons • House of Lords • Legislation • Law enforcement • Royal Prerogative

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