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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 commonly understood as a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate conduct, although its precise definition is 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 collective legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or established by judges through precedent, normally in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that may elect to accept alternative arbitration to the normal court process. The formation 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 case law 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.

Selected article

A black and white photograph of Bricker

The Bricker Amendment is the collective name of a number of slightly different proposed amendments to the United States Constitution considered by the United States Senate in the 1950s. None of these amendments ever passed Congress. Each of them would require explicit congressional approval, especially for executive agreements that did not require the Senate's two thirds approval for treaty. They are named for their sponsor, conservative Republican Senator John W. Bricker of Ohio, who distrusted the exclusive powers of the president to involve America beyond the wishes of Congress.

American entry into World War II led to a new sense of internationalism, which seemed threatening to many conservatives. Frank E. Holman, president of the American Bar Association (ABA), called attention to Federal court decisions, notably Missouri v. Holland, which he claimed could give international treaties and agreements precedence over the United States Constitution and could be used by foreigners to threaten American liberties. Senator Bricker was influenced by the ABA's work and first introduced a proposed constitutional amendment in 1951. With substantial popular support and the election of a Republican president and Congress in the elections of 1952, together with support from many Southern Democrats, Bricker's plan seemed destined to Pass Congress by the necessary two thirds vote and be sent to the individual states for ratification by three fourths of the state legislatures.

The best-known version of the Bricker Amendment, considered by the Senate in 1953–54, declared that no treaty could be made by the United States that conflicted with the Constitution; treaties could not be self-executing without the passage of separate enabling legislation through Congress; treaties could not give Congress legislative powers beyond those specified in the Constitution. It also limited the president's power to enter into executive agreements with foreign powers. (more...)

Selected biography

A portrait of Hale

Sir Matthew Hale SL (1 November 1609 – 25 December 1676) was an influential English barrister, judge and jurist most noted for his treatise Historia Placitorum Coronæ, or The History of the Pleas of the Crown. Born to a barrister and his wife, who had both died by the time he was 5, Hale was raised by his father's relative, a strict Puritan, and inherited his faith. In 1626 he matriculated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford (now Hertford College), intending to become a priest, but after a series of distractions was persuaded to become a barrister like his father thanks to an encounter with a Serjeant-at-Law in a dispute over his estate. On 8 November 1628 he joined Lincoln's Inn, where he was called to the Bar on 17 May 1636. As a barrister, Hale represented a variety of Royalist figures during the prelude and duration of the English Civil War, including Thomas Wentworth and William Laud; it has been hypothesised that Hale was to represent Charles I at his state trial, and conceived the defence Charles used. Despite the Royalist loss, Hale's reputation for integrity and his political neutrality saved him from any repercussions, and under the Commonwealth of England he was made Chairman of the Hale Commission, which investigated law reform. Following the Commission's dissolution, Oliver Cromwell made him a Justice of the Common Pleas. (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. Learn more about statutes...

Following is an example of a noted statute or comparable written law:


The first page of the Accurate News and Information Act

The Accurate News and Information Act was a statute passed by the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, Canada, in 1937, at the instigation of William Aberhart's Social Credit government. It would have required newspapers to print "clarifications" of stories that a committee of Social Credit legislators deemed inaccurate, and to reveal their sources on demand.

The act was a result of the stormy relationship between Aberhart and the press, which dated to before the 1935 election, in which the Social Credit League was elected to government. Virtually all of Alberta's newspapers—especially the Calgary Herald—were critical of Social Credit, as were a number of publications from elsewhere in Canada. Even the American media had greeted Aberhart's election with derision.

Though the act won easy passage through the Social Credit-dominated legislature, Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta John C. Bowen reserved royal assent until the Supreme Court of Canada evaluated the act's legality. In 1938's Reference re Alberta Statutes, the court found that it was unconstitutional, and it never became law. (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.

Learn more about case law...

For examples of noted cases, see Lists of case law. Following is one example of such a noted case:


Slade's Case (or Slade v. Morley) was a case in English contract law that ran from 1596 to 1602. Under the medieval common law, claims seeking the repayment of a debt or other matters could only be pursued through a writ of debt in the Court of Common Pleas, a problematic and archaic process. By 1558 the lawyers had succeeded in creating another method, enforced by the Court of King's Bench, through the action of assumpsit, which was technically for deceit. The legal fiction used was that by failing to pay after promising to do so, a defendant had committed deceit, and was liable to the plaintiff. The conservative Common Pleas, through the appellate court the Court of Exchequer Chamber, began to overrule decisions made by the King's Bench on assumpsit, causing friction between the courts.

In Slade's Case, a case under assumpsit, which was brought between judges of the Common Pleas and King's Bench, was transferred to the Court of Exchequer Chamber where the King's Bench judges were allowed to vote. The case dragged on for five years, with the judgment finally being delivered in 1602 by the Chief Justice of the King's Bench, John Popham. Popham ruled that assumpsit claims were valid, a decision called a "watershed" moment in English law, with archaic and outdated principles being overwritten by the modern and effective assumpsit, which soon became the main cause of action in contract cases. This is also seen as an example of judicial legislation, with the courts making a revolutionary decision Parliament had failed to make. (more...)


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