Portal:Law
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Portal:Law

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...)

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Surrounded by Gothic architecture and enclosed in a pointed arch is a pair of wooden doors, the entrance to the court.

The County Court of 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. In some places, a building is now shared with the local Crown Court (as at Maidstone Combined Court Centre, for example), Family Court, or magistrates' court. 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). Part-time judges (recorders, deputy district judges and some retired judges) also sit in the county court. As at 1 April 2015, there are 640 circuit judges and 441 district judges.

The system of 60 circuits was abolished in 1970. Over time, whilst new courts have been opened in various locations, there has been an overall reduction in the number of locations where a county court is held. In June 2010, the Ministry of Justice announced plans to close 54 county courts and 103 magistrates' courts, in order to save £15m in annual running costs and £22m in necessary maintenance. After consultation, it was decided to keep five of these county courts open: Barnsley, Bury, Llangefni, the Mayor's and City of London Court, and Skipton. From 22 April 2014, the Crime and Courts Act 2013 replaced the previous system of county courts for different localities with one County Court that operates throughout England and Wales, sitting in multiple locations simultaneously. In July 2015, further proposals to close nineteen County Court venues were announced. (Full article...) (more...)

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Black and white photograph of Mark Felt

William Mark Felt Sr. (August 17, 1913 - December 18, 2008) was an American law enforcement officer who worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from 1942 to 1973 and was known for his role in the Watergate scandal. Felt was an FBI special agent who eventually rose to the position of Associate Director, the Bureau's second-highest-ranking post. Felt worked in several FBI field offices prior to his promotion to the Bureau's headquarters. In 1980 he was convicted of having violated the civil rights of people thought to be associated with members of the Weather Underground, by ordering FBI agents to break into their homes and search the premises as part of an attempt to prevent bombings. He was ordered to pay a fine, but was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan during his appeal.

In 2005, at age 91, Felt revealed that during his tenure as associate director of the FBI he had been the notorious anonymous source known as "Deep Throat" who provided The Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein with critical information about the Watergate scandal, which ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974. Though Felt's identity as Deep Throat was suspected, including by Nixon himself, it had generally remained a secret for 30 years. Felt finally acknowledged that he was Deep Throat after being persuaded by his daughter to reveal his identity before his death. (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 Defective Premises Act 1972 (c. 35) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that covers landlords' and builders' liability for poorly constructed and poorly maintained buildings, along with any injuries that may result. During the 19th century, the common law principle that a landlord could not be liable for letting a poorly maintained house was established, while a long-running principle was that, in practice, builders could not be sued for constructing defective buildings. The courts began to turn against the first principle during the 20th century, imposing several restrictions on the landlord's immunity, but the landlord was still largely free from being sued.

The Defective Premises Bill was introduced to the House of Commons as a private member's bill by Ivor Richard on 1 December 1971, and given the Royal Assent on 29 June 1972, coming into force as the Defective Premises Act 1972 on 1 January 1974. The Act establishes a duty of care builders and their sub-contractors owe to the occupiers of property they construct or modify, and also establishes a duty of care landlords hold towards their tenants and any third parties who might be injured by their failure to maintain or repair property. The Act received a mixed reaction from critics; while some complimented it on its simple nature compared to the previously complex common rule laws, others felt that it was too limited for what was desired to be achieved, and that the wording used was at times both too vague and too specific. (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?

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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:


Black and white portrait photograph

Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., 248 N.Y. 339, 162 N.E. 99 (1928), is a leading case in American tort law on the question of liability to an unforeseeable plaintiff. The case was heard by the New York Court of Appeals, the highest state court in New York; its opinion was written by Chief Judge Benjamin Cardozo, a leading figure in the development of American common law and later a United States Supreme Court justice.

The plaintiff, Helen Palsgraf, was waiting at a Long Island Rail Road station in August 1924 while taking her daughters to the beach. Two men attempted to board the train before hers; one (aided by railroad employees) dropped a package that exploded, causing a large coin-operated scale on the platform to hit her. After the incident, she began to stammer, and subsequently sued the railroad, arguing that its employees had been negligent while assisting the man, and that she had been harmed by the neglect. In May 1927 she obtained a jury verdict of $6,000, which the railroad appealed. Palsgraf gained a 3-2 decision in the Appellate Division, and the railroad appealed again. Cardozo wrote for a 4-3 majority of the Court of Appeals, ruling that there was no negligence because the employees, in helping the man board, did not have a duty of care to Palsgraf as injury to her was not a foreseeable harm from aiding a man with a package. The original jury verdict was overturned, and the railroad won the case.

A number of factors, including the bizarre facts and Cardozo's outstanding reputation, made the case prominent in the legal profession, and it remains so, taught to most if not all American law students in torts class. Cardozo's conception, that tort liability can only occur when a defendant breaches a duty of care the defendant owes to a plaintiff, causing the injury sued for, has been widely accepted in American law. In dealing with proximate cause, many states have taken the approach championed by the Court of Appeals' dissenter in Palsgraf, Judge William S. Andrews. (Full article...) (more...)


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