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Portal:Law of England and Wales

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Introduction

English law is the common law legal system of England and Wales, comprising mainly criminal law and civil law, each branch having its own courts and procedures.

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The Leges Henrici Primi or Laws of Henry I is a legal treatise, written in about 1115, that records the legal customs of medieval England in the reign of King Henry I of England. It lists and explains the laws, and includes explanations of how to conduct legal proceedings. Although its title implies that these laws were issued by King Henry, it lists laws issued by earlier monarchs that were still in force in Henry's reign; the only law of Henry that is included is the coronation charter he issued at the start of his reign. It covers a diverse range of subjects, including ecclesiastical cases, treason, murder, theft, feuds, assessment of danegeld, and the amounts of judicial fines. The work survives in six manuscripts that range in date from about 1200 to around 1330. The complete work itself was first printed in 1644, but an earlier partial edition appeared in 1628. The Leges is the first legal treatise in English history, and has been credited with having the greatest effect on the views of English law before the reign of King Henry II than any other work of its kind. (more...)

Selected biography

Sir Matthew Hale
Sir Matthew Hale (1609–1676) was an influential English barrister, judge and jurist most noted for his treatise Historia Placitorum Coronæ. He studied at Magdalen Hall, Oxford and became a barrister, representing various Royalist figures during the English Civil War. His reputation for integrity saved him from repercussions under the Commonwealth of England and Oliver Cromwell made him a Justice of the Common Pleas. He was noted for his resistance to bribery and his willingness to make politically unpopular decisions which upheld the law. When Charles II was reinstated, Hale was made Chief Baron of the Exchequer and then Chief Justice of the King's Bench. In both positions, he was again noted for his integrity, although not as particularly innovative. Hale is almost universally appreciated as an excellent judge and jurist, with his central legacy coming through his written work, published after his death. His Analysis of the Common Law is the first published history of English law and a strong influence on William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, whilst his jurisprudence struck a middle-ground between Edward Coke's "appeal to reason" and John Selden's "appeal to contract", while refuting elements of Thomas Hobbes's theory of natural law. His thoughts on marital rape, expressed in the Historia, continued in English law until 1991, and he was cited in court as recently as 1993. (more...)

Selected case

Abraham Thornton
Ashford v Thornton was an 1818 English legal case in the Court of King's Bench that upheld the right of the defendant, on a private appeal from an acquittal for murder, to trial by battle. In 1817, Abraham Thornton (pictured) was charged with the murder of Mary Ashford. Thornton met Ashford at a dance, and walked with her from the event. The next morning, Ashford was found drowned in a pit, with little outward signs of violence. Although public opinion was heavily against Thornton, the jury quickly acquitted him, and also found him not guilty of rape. Mary's brother, William Ashford, launched an appeal, and Thornton was rearrested. Thornton claimed the right to trial by battle, a medieval usage which had never been repealed by Parliament. Ashford argued that the evidence against Thornton was overwhelming, and that he was thus ineligible to wager battle. The court decided that the evidence against Thornton was not overwhelming, and that trial by battle was a permissible option under law; thus Thornton was granted trial by battle. Ashford declined the offer of battle and Thornton was freed from custody. Appeals such as Ashford's were abolished by statute the following year, and with them the right to trial by battle. Thornton emigrated to the United States, where he died about 1860. (more...)

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An illustration of a criminal trial at the Old Bailey in the early 19th century
Credit: Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin
An illustration of a criminal trial at the Old Bailey in the early 19th century

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

Courts and tribunals

Courts of England and Wales • Supreme Court • Court of Appeal • High Court • Crown Court • County Courts • Magistrates' Court • Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority • Employment Appeal Tribunal • Employment Tribunal • Information Tribunal • Mental Health Review Tribunal

Judges

Lord Chancellor • President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom • Lord Chief Justice • Master of the Rolls • Chancellor of the High Court • President of the Family Division • President of the Queen's Bench Division • Lord Justice of Appeal • High Court judge • Judiciary of England and Wales • Magistrates of England and Wales

Government and state bodies

Ministry of Justice • Secretary of State for Justice • Attorney General • Director of Public Prosecutions • Crown Prosecution Service • Her Majesty's Courts Service • HM Land Registry • National Offender Management Service (HM Prison Service • National Probation Service) • Law Commission • Office of the Public Guardian • Tribunals Service • Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council · Boundary Commissions • Civil Justice Council • Information Commissioner's Office • Judicial Appointments Commission • Judicial College • Legal Services Commission • Sentencing Council • Youth Justice Board

Lawyers and institutions

Barrister • Bar Standards Board • Inns of Court (Gray's Inn, Inner Temple, Lincoln's Inn, Middle Temple) • General Council of the Bar • Queen's Counsel • Solicitor • Law Society of England and Wales • Solicitors Regulation Authority • Legal executive • Institute of Legal Executives

Legal areas

Administrative law • Causation • Civil liberties • Commercial law • Company law • Competition law • Contract law • Criminal law • Estoppel • Family law • Frustration • Insanity • Insolvency • Intoxication • Inquests • Juries • Labour law • Loss of a chance • Manslaughter • Marriage • Misrepresentation • Mistake • Murder • Nuisance • Police powers • Privacy law • Property law • Provocation • Right to silence • Tort law • Trespass • Trusts law

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